Taxi driver's long road to recovery

"All I could see was the knife shining out of the corner of my eye. It was half an inch away from my throat"

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014
Alan Cooper
CHARLOTTE CURD
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Taxi driver Alan Cooper is back in Cab 18 after having an attacker hold a knife to his throat.

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Traumatised taxi driver Alan Cooper still has flashbacks of the point of a meat knife lined up against his neck.

"All I could see was the knife shining out of the corner of my eye. It was half an inch away from my throat.

"I thought then about my family," the 47-year-old New Plymouth man said.

Yesterday his attacker, beneficiary Keegan Bentley Jones, a 19-year-old Inglewood man with a psychiatric history, who was abusing synthetic cannabis and alcohol, was jailed for three years.

He pleaded guilty to the aggravated robbery which unfolded about 9pm on December 10.

When arrested by police near Airport Dr, Jones told them he took the taxi because he wanted to steal a plane from New Plymouth airport and crash it into Auckland's sky tower.

During sentencing in the New Plymouth District Court, Jones' lawyer Julian Hannam said Jones had long-standing mental health problems coupled with drugs and alcohol. To the worry of his family he was in the company of others doing the same.

Jail would give him a chance to wean himself off the drugs and he would hopefully get help on his release, Mr Hannam said.

Jones personally apologised to Judge Allan Roberts for what he had done. He also handed over a letter of apology to Mr Cooper.

Outside court, Mr Cooper said he saw no effects of Jones being on drugs or alcohol on the night and believed his actions were totally premeditated. But for three months he was left wondering why Jones had done what he did until he heard for the first time in court yesterday what happened.

His money had not been touched. But his cellphone was thrown out the window and his boss' cab damaged.

"I'm shocked he had so many mental issues. It makes it easier to understand but it doesn't make it right.

"Synthetic cannabis is just going to make a scrambled brain even worse. He was on the road to ruin. It could only end one way."

His wife had always feared for his safety.

"She knows it's a dangerous job. You hear about the others who have been attacked over the years."

In the 16 years he had been driving he knew of half a dozen taxi drivers in New Plymouth who had been attacked.

"In a little place like New Plymouth it shouldn't be happening. I think a lot of it is because of drugs."

Up until the attack he had never had a problem with anyone in the back of his cab.

"This guy has totally blown my confidence out of the water."

He predicts New Zealand cabs, which now have security cameras, GPS and panic buttons, will also be fitted with protective cages around the driver in the future.

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Mr Cooper said as Jones pulled the knife on him he was able to push his panic button. As a result, all the taxi drivers were out on the road looking for him. He is very grateful to the support he received from them.

The after-effects kicked off a chain reaction for himself, his employer, Wayne Darling, work colleagues and family.

Jones drove off in the cab and Mr Cooper said he went into a nearby pizza shop yelling his head off to ring 111.

Sitting in a coffee shop yesterday with a Daily News reporter, Mr Cooper saw some hope for his attacker after reading his letter of apology. Jones said his aim now was to change his life.

"If he stands by that letter all would not have been for nought. He will come out of this a better person."

He is now keen to meet Jones in person.

"I really want to go and see him and talk with him."

- Taranaki Daily News

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