Taxi drivers

Hawke’s Bay taxi drivers fume at house arrest for bashing, say workplace violence escalates

Havelock North resident Joga Singh-Chamber is recovering at his Havelock North home after a brutal passenger assault. Journalist/Gary Hamilton-Irvine. Video/Warren Buckland

A Havelock North taxi driver stricken to the point of having a brain haemorrhage says a house arrest sentence against his attacker sends a chilling message.

The Hawke’s Bay taxi community has been rallying around Joga Singh-Chamber since the July 9 attack in Flaxmere.

But fellow drivers say they are already struggling to find staff willing to pick up passengers and brazen acts of violence are becoming a problem that needs stronger deterrence.

Samoan national Seilala Kameti, 33, was convicted in Hastings District Court on Tuesday of wounding with intent to injure, following the late night attack on Singh-Chamber.

The summary of facts stated that Kameti, a RSE (recognized seasonal employer) worker, was drunk at the time of the attack and mistakenly believed that Singh-Chamber, 62, had taken his phone after dropping it off.

This resulted in Kameti hitting the victim twice in the head, causing him serious injuries.

Havelock North resident Joga Singh-Chamber is still recovering after being assaulted while driving a taxi in July.  Photo/Warren Buckland
Havelock North resident Joga Singh-Chamber is still recovering after being assaulted while driving a taxi in July. Photo/Warren Buckland

Singh-Chamber was airlifted to hospital in Wellington with a broken jaw and a brain haemorrhage.

He spent three weeks in the hospital and it took him weeks to start walking again.

He has been unable to work since the attack.

Kameti, who had pleaded guilty, was ordered to pay the victim $5,000 for hurt feelings and eight months house arrest at an address in Hastings.

He will then be deported.

During sentencing, Judge Chris Sygrove learned that Kameti had a clean criminal record and was raised in a supportive household.

The judge acknowledged that Kameti was not used to drinking alcohol in Samoa but found it readily available in New Zealand, which affected him that night.

Kameti also had the support of her employer, who did not condone her actions, but provided her with a statement.

Joga Singh-Chamber will undergo another surgery next week as part of his recovery.  Photo/Warren Buckland
Joga Singh-Chamber will undergo another surgery next week as part of his recovery. Photo/Warren Buckland

Singh-Chamber, who has lived in Hawke’s Bay for more than 30 years, said Hawke’s Bay today he thought his attacker should have been imprisoned and then deported.

He had suffered greatly from the attack.

“I can’t eat properly. I can’t work – my body is shaking. It’s not very good.”

He woke up in hospital three days after the attack and underwent two surgeries on his jaw, including the insertion of two titanium plates.

A third operation is scheduled for next week.

Singh-Chamber worked part-time as a taxi driver and owned two businesses, a cafe and a contracting business.

The latter suffered greatly from his incapacity for work for three months.

His friend Jaswinder Sehjal, who works as a taxi driver, was shocked when he heard of the sentencing.

“He (Kameti) should be in jail. It’s as simple as that.”

He said many taxi drivers feared for their safety and “no one wants to drive”.

Another friend and taxi driver, Harry, who did not want his last name published, said he was also seriously attacked at work about two years ago near Havelock North.

The executive director of the Small Passenger Service Association (formerly known as the New Zealand Taxi Federation), Warren Quirke, said his association held its annual conference in Napier on Wednesday, where safety concerns associated with the profession have again been raised.

“We have had security issues for many years – going back to 2010-2011 we had two taxi drivers murdered.”

He said the organization had noted a dramatic drop in aggression and threatening behavior from passengers and drivers after cameras, 24/7 GPS monitoring and duress alarms became standard for taxis. in the towns.

But Quirke feared the problem resurfaced after changes to the Land Transport Act in 2017, which relaxed regulations encouraging such safety measures to allow carpools to operate.

“We have received data on allegations of sexual assault and misbehavior and it’s quite overwhelming to see how this has increased since 2017. It’s quite concerning.”

He said there was even a case during Wednesday’s annual meeting where a director of a taxi company was called when one of his drivers pressed his duress alarm after being threatened by its passengers.

“It looked like things were going to escalate into an assault, the driver used the duress button, the police were called and they were stopped dead in their tracks.”

Former Hawke’s Bay Multicultural Association president Sukhdeep Singh said a $5,000 award was “nothing compared to the loss of income Joga had”.

“Not only that, the emotional and physical stress throughout this time has impacted not just him, but all of his family, friends and the workers who work for him.”

He had spoken with police officers who were in favor of the idea of ​​improving the safety of taxi drivers.