A little more than a year before John P. Wheeler III would allegedly be murdered in Delaware and dumped in a Newark dumpster, a woman in the same state would be murdered by a taxi company employee.
Witnesses said John Wheeler sought the aid of a taxi during his time on foot in New Castle, making a call to a local taxi cab company for a ride to Philadelphia. Minutes later he would leave the scene, allegedly not being present when the taxi driver says he arrived to give John a lift to Philly.
Happy Harry’s Pharmacist in New Castle, DE told police that Wheeler asked him for a ride, but he offered to call a cab instead; John Wheeler politely refused.
Days later John Wheeler was found dead far from Wilmington or New Castle, emphasizing that he got a ride from someone the night of his death, because his own vehicle was still parked at the AMTRAK station where it had been since Dec. 13, the day he got news he had lost an important civil case against a nearby future neighbor named Frank Marini, and his wife.
Delaware resident allegedly murdered by cab company driver
June McCarson, a 78-year-old Delaware resident of the Lewes-area tooled around in a vehicle owned by Comfort Ride Taxi the last day she was alive back in November of 2009. And while she chose a limo as the vehicle of choice on that fateful day, the driver alleged to have murdered her was still employed by the taxi company and driving one of its owned vehicles.
McCarson’s alleged murderer, a male taxi company employee named Leslie D. Small, would allegedly stab her to death after witnessing her withdraw money from her bank account, get her hair done and finally stop in at her pharmacy before seeking to return home.
McCarson’s murder undoubtedly may have appeared random to police at first, maybe even the result of what some suspect played a role in John Wheeler’s death: street crime?
But it was McCarson’s driver who allegedly took her life so brutally.
When faced with the prospect that one of their taxi drivers had allegedly murdered a customer, Comfort Ride Taxi owner Vincent Manuele was quick to absolve himself of any responsibility–as well as Delaware’s Dept. of Transportation.
“I want the public to know that we did our part, and DelDOT did their part. Sometimes things like this happens. But I do follow the law.”
But this is where some question about what constitutes “our part” in regards to the regulations governing taxi drivers in Delaware–and the taxi owners who operate these vehicles. After all, Delaware citizens like John Wheeler, who used public transportation, need to be able to rely on it to be a secure method to some extent.
Delaware Dept. of Motor Vehicles and taxis
According to Russell Holleger, the Delaware Dept. of Motor Vehicles Office of Common Carrier Audit and Compliance Operations Manager, taxi drivers in the state like the Comfort Ride Taxi drivers and the City Cab Taxi drivers (like John Wheeler’s) must pass an extensive criminal background check.
Holleger says they must also pass a written drivers test, take/pass a defensive driving course (and a written test about it), as well as be at least 18 years of age.
But that isn’t true for limo drivers, which was the vehicle being driven by McCarson’s alleged taxi company employee killer. Delaware limo drivers don’t need to qualify for a Class Z drivers license. And that can lead to what happened to McCarson: an alleged brutal murder by a criminal with a record.
Given that fact, it makes it all the more heartening that the Wilmington PD Chief doesn’t buckle to the Wilmington City Council when investigations of suspicious deaths appear to threaten the city’s financial coffers.
Taxi cab owners may/may not check background
Comfort Ride Taxi Company’s owner said he still tried to do a limited background check on the man he put behind the wheel of McCarson’s limo the day she died, even requiring a urinalysis, but police records showed later that not only did Leslie Small have records for violence and robbery (for which he did some time), he also had a record for drug use and was HIV positive.
This raises the question: how trustworthy are the taxi and limo company owners and drivers really in Delaware (and how much enforcing is going on with the regulating authorities), where June McCarson was stabbed to death and John P. Wheeler was found in a dumpster in the state?
The Cape Gazette reported Comfort Ride Taxi Owner Manuele addressing the issue himself about regulation, “They’re saying they don’t have the staff to enforce the law.”
But Manuele didn’t uncover publicly available information about his driver either.
Taxi driver in John Wheeler’s case
John Wheeler’s death investigation brought up a cab driver in early January. Although Wheeler’s death remains unsolved still as of late January, police did find a taxi driver’s phone number listed in Wheeler’s cell phone, prompting them to interview the driver not once but twice at the beginning of their investigation.
“I don’t know who this guy is,” Athel Scott of City Cab Taxi told police and the press when questioned about the deceased former Pentagon official having his phone number listed in his cell.
USA Today reported Scott admitting he had seen John Wheeler around the train station in the past, but that he didn’t know him.
Scott was upset that police interrogated him on Wednesday, Jan. 5 about the case, as he said he gave out his business cards to many people and John Wheeler could have gotten his number that way.
USA Today also reported that Scott said other police officers conducted a search of his residence, with his wife present, as he was being questioned at police headquarters, which made his wife angry.
No arrest has been made in the John P. Wheeler III homicide investigation, but the fact that Wheeler did not have a known mode of transportation from Wilmington, DE to Newark, DE, where his body was placed in a dumpster, makes many speculate that Wheeler may have taken his last breath during his final vehicle ride, too.
Update: Another cab driver has come forward since this last article was published, and you can read all about that driver at “John Wheeler case: Cab drive comes forward, claims contacted police first.”
References: USA Today and Cape Gazette