I started A Cab Taxi in 2000 as a joke. I got the idea at my fifteenth class reunion.
At the time, I was working in the office at Homeland grocery store. I’d been there five years and was ready for a new job.
After 18 holes of golf and a lot of beer, I told my old classmates I should start a taxi service since the town we lived in didn't have one. They laughed, thinking I was joking.
The next day I thought of a name for the company – A Cab Taxi – and by dark I was printing up business cards.
Although several people had tried and failed to start up taxi companies in Elk City, I was determined to make it work.
My wife and I were scared. Neither one of us knew much about running our own business. If we failed, I told her, we were going to be up a creek without a paddle.
I already had a mini van and decided to use my personal cell phone (580-821-2945) as the main business line.
A few weeks later I decided to get a business phone with a catchier number. I saw 580-821-2222 was available and thought it was perfect because it could be advertised as 821-ACAB.
I got business cards, reflective lettering for my van windows, and a magnetic sign for the back door – all displaying the new number. Business started picking up in a matter of days.
A friend mentioned my taxi service every time she ran a radio ad for her club.
After a while, I bought a second van so my wife and I could pick people up at the same time. After our first summer in business, my wife quit her job as a waitress and started working with me full time.
A wealthy man in the oil business, Mitch Ore, became a regular customer and helped us expand even further.
He had me deliver groceries to his house at White Eagle Lodge, north of Foss Lake. I also gave him rides around to different bars in Elk City and to Oklahoma City for meetings at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
I had never made such easy money. Mitch was instrumental in getting our business on the map.
At the end of 2001, we hired a guy to help us on New Years Eve. He seemed okay, so I kept using him and even let his wife drive from time to time.
Several months later, we had a falling out, and he decided to start his own taxi service – Bert's Taxi. I believe this is when our troubles with the law began.
The city decided they needed to regulate us, making sure we had commercial insurance, licenses, etc.
My cousin worked at City Hall as the city inspector’s secretary. She told me to come to her office and show proof of my credentials. I showed her my commercial insurance and operator’s license.
I asked her if the other taxi service had been asked to show proof of insurance and license. She said she was going to call them as soon as I left. Apparently they didn’t have either and got shut down for the weekend. The following week they got what they needed on one van.
A few days later my cousin called again asking how many vehicles we had. She’d heard I was advertising three vans.
The business cards we were using at the time said we had three, because we were planning on starting up a third soon. I told her I would bring down the additional proof of insurance as soon as I purchased it.
The following week I bought a third van, got it insured and submitted all the paperwork.
In the next few weeks we found out the other taxi service was running half-a-dozen vehicles. I was certain they weren't carrying commercial insurance on all of them because the price was so steep.
I called my cousin. The city manager said I had to get affidavits signed by customers of the uninsured cabs, listing tag numbers and vehicle descriptions.
I got several people to ride with them and was shocked to find out they only had to pay $3 for a ride anywhere in town. Two of the passengers signed affidavits about an uninsured pickup and car.
After I turned them in, City Manager Guy Hylton changed his mind about enforcing his own rules. My cousin explained that the city council voted not to enforce the policy, which had already been imposed on us.
Later, the city wanted to purchase the local electric system. The citizens got to vote on the issue.
A few days before the vote, I was joking at a bar about giving people free rides to the polls to vote against the take over. Apparently some of the city manager’s friends were listening.
The vote was an overwhelming “no.”
The day after the election my cousin called and told me the city manager heard about me giving people free rides to vote against their project.
She wanted to know how many free rides I’d given. I thought it was some kind of joke. I told her I hadn’t taken one single person to the polls, and then I remembered the joke I’d made at the bar.
She told me Hylton was very angry and I might be in trouble.
So what if I had given free rides to the polls? It’s not like I would’ve forced people to vote a certain way.
After the misunderstanding got cleared up, things ran smoothly for a while, but I knew the city manager would hold a grudge.
By 2003, we had so much business, it felt almost too good to be true. My wife and I had suspicions about many of the rides we were giving, and people were commenting about some of the places we did business. Friends were telling us it looked like we were being used as a cover for drugs, and I started to get concerned.
I’d heard stories about organized crime and drugs in Beckham County for decades, but I was beginning to discover just how organized the crime was.
We tried being available 24 hours a day a few times, but finally decided to open at 7 a.m. and close around 3 a.m. I took turns with another driver and my wife filled in the gaps. Sometimes I worked 24 hours straight. We ran three vans after dark on the weekends.
We were starting to become financially secure. We had a lot of upper class people using us, because the police were cracking down on drunk drivers. We were in like Flynn with the clique, as I call the group of people that control things around here.
But we also gave a lot of people rides that didn't have cars. I always tried to help people down on their luck by providing cheap transportation or even giving free rides.
In mid 2003, I had a guy named Leonard working for me, but it turned out he had some issues I couldn't deal with. I let him go after a month or so. Two weeks after we parted ways, five drug task force vehicles pulled up to my house looking for him.
I was sitting in my van with my son. Officer Hank Twyman asked if I had seen Leonard. I told him he hadn't worked for me in a couple of weeks.
Twyman turned to Officer R.C. Daniels and said sarcastically, "He hasn't seen him in a couple of weeks".
I asked what Leonard had done and didn't get a reply, so I told them my son and I were going to eat at Western Sizzlin and they were more than welcome to join us.
I put the van in reverse and left the whole group of them standing in the yard. There was no reason for five of them to show up at my house because of something a former employee had done, and they had enough information to know he wasn't there.
About a week later a guy named Eddy came along and started getting about ten rides a day. He kept asking for a job and wasn't taking no for an answer.
He had a girl the same age as my boy and my wife became friends with his wife, driving their child to school.
A friend told me Eddy was bad news and that I better keep a close eye on him. He heard he sold dope. A couple of customers said he was an informant.
The more I found out about our new frequent customer, the more I mistrusted him.
One morning he called my wife and asked her to pick up a computer he claimed belonged to him from a house on the 400 block of MacArthur.
When she got there, the landlord Willis Johnson answered.
The computer belonged to his sister in law Heather Mulligan, who rented his house.
He told her Eddy wasn't going to get the computer.
Heather couldn't pay for party favors Eddy had loaned her, so he took it up on himself to take the computer in exchange for her debt.
Heather had already called the police because Eddy had been driving by her house saying he was going to burn it down if she didn't pay up.
The first time Eddy came to get the computer, Willis ran him off the property, got in his pickup and followed him home. Willis was arrested for trespassing although he claimed he hadn't set foot on Eddy's property.
I decided to go to the police station to see what I could find out about this mess and while I was there I got a copy of a police report that Heather had filed about the threats Eddy had made to burn her house to the ground.