Thursday, July 2, 2009

French Tourists Taken on Wild Ride in Illegal Commuter Van

By Conor Greene

Two men who steered five unsuspecting French tourists into their unauthorized commuter van at JFK Airport have been charged after taking them on a harrowing seven-mile trip through Queens and Brooklyn with police vehicles in pursuit.

The incident began last Tuesday outside Air France’s terminal at JFK when the two Brooklyn men offered to give the tourists a ride in their unlicensed van. Port Authority police officers were attempting to cite the defendants for “hustling” the passengers when the men sped away with the tourists inside the van.

According to the charges, the officer observed Ian McFarlane, 57, offer ground transportation to five arriving passengers standing on the shuttle line outside the terminal and escort them to a green van driven by Khaalif Preacher, 27. The officer displayed his shield, approached McFarlane, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, tapped on the window and ordered the defendants to stop. At that point, McFarlane allegedly looked over at Preacher, who took off at a high rate of speed.

The men’s escape was slowed by airport traffic, which allowed another officer to approach the driver’s side, bang on the window and order the defendants to stop and exit the vehicle. McFarlane and Preacher refused and once again sped off at a high rate of speed, causing the officer to sustain a shoulder injury.

With at least 10 police vehicles in pursuit, Preacher drove the van through traffic, forcing pedestrians and other drivers to quickly get out of the van’s way, at times running stop signs and red lights while traveling as fast as 60 miles per hour on residential streets. All the while, the five tourists – Esther Mamane and her mother Claudie Mamane and Gwenaelle Dulugat and her parents, Michele Dulugat, 61, and Jean-Jacques Dulugat, 62 – were allegedly locked in the van, with the defendants ignoring their pleas to stop.

Eventually, the defendants reached a dead end street and turned into a postal facility at 1050 Forbell Street in East New York. They jumped from the van, fleeing on foot as the vehicle continued to move with the five screaming to be let go. The van ultimately crashed into a stop sign and then a postal truck. After the crash, Claudia Mamane was injured when she fell while exiting the vehicle, which ran over her arm.

With his gun drawn, a Port Authority officer chased after McFarlane, who stopped when cornered. However, as the officer put away his weapon and attempted to handcuff McFarlane, the defendant began wrestling with and kicking the officer, who suffered a sprained knee. Preacher also allegedly resisted arrest, according to authorities.

The men were arraigned last Wednesday night and charged with second-degree assault, second-degree assault on an officer, first-degree reckless endangerment, first-degree unlawful imprisonment, resisting arrest, third-degree unlawful fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle and unlawful solicitation of ground transportation services. If convicted, they each face up to seven years in prison. They were ordered held on $50,000 bail and ordered to return to court on July 8.

According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, it is illegal for any unauthorized driver to charge for ground transportation at an airport. Violators are subject to a fine of $100 to $200 and/or 15 days in jail. While a third conviction within an 18-month period raises the offense a misdemeanor carrying fines of $750 to $1,150 and/or 45 days in jail, Brown argues that has not been sufficient to deter airport hustling.

In response, Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry and Senator Martin M. Dilan are sponsoring a bill would increase the monetary fines and amount of possible jail time for airport hustling. The bill has passed the Assembly and is presently awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Following the ordeal, the tourists were given a bag of New York City goodies including Broadway and museum tickets at a press conference on Wednesday. Through a translator, Claudie Mamane said she harbors no ill will towards the city despite the incident. “We are happy to be here; we love New York and New Yorkers,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “We never lost faith. And at any time we never thought it would end badly

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