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Attack shatters family's dreams

Taxi driver endures long surgeries after repeated stabbings by fare

Posted: Sunday, January 11, 2004

When Maria Miller went to work Wednesday, she was saving up for a nice wedding.

Now she is thinking about taking care of her fiance, who can't even push the pain-medication button from his hospital bed, she told the Empire on Friday.

Taxi driver Eric Drake, 37, survived the stabbing and armed robbery Wednesday night in his cab near Egan Drive in the Mendenhall Valley. But Miller said the "vicious attack" has changed their lives.

"We didn't think he was going to make it," she said. She described waiting through 812 hours of surgery. Drake's family came up from Sitka, where he grew up.

"And these people are still at large," she said of the two suspects, her voice rising with anger.

Police described both suspects as Alaska Natives. The man was judged to be 18 to 22 years old, with a light build and clean-cut appearance. The woman was judged to be about 19 or 20 and heavy-set.

The community needs to find the people who did this, Miller said. The company that employs here and Drake, Juneau Taxi and Tours, has offered a $500 reward for information that leads to the robbers' arrests and convictions.

Police reported that Drake was robbed by a man and a woman, both in their late teens or early 20s. The man, police said, repeatedly stabbed Drake.

Miller, who also drives for Juneau Taxi and Tours, said the injuries covered Drake from head to toe, but that little describes what the robbers took from him before they fled into the snowy night.

"They slit Eric's throat," she said. "It was attempted murder. They told him they were going to kill him."

The most disabling injuries came to Drake's hands, Miller said. About 612 hours of surgery were delicately devoted to putting his severely cut hands back together, to save them for future use.

Drake's fingers will need to be bandaged for six weeks, Miller said. They will have to be in traction for another three months before Drake can even start therapy.

"I'm looking at supporting our family alone," she said. At the same time, Drake will require around-the-clock care.

Police did not disclose the amount of money the robbers took from Drake.

Miller said she didn't want to think about what the robbery would cost her family. She said she and Drake had just made the second payment on their house. She doesn't know if they will be able to keep it.

"We don't have any insurance," she said. "We work for fares."

She said she owns two cabs. The one the robbery took place in is being held by police as evidence - not that she wants to drive it again.

"I don't want anyone sitting in that cab again," she said.

Miller said she wasn't driving Wednesday night, but filled in as a dispatcher.

"I dispatched Eric to the call," she said with regret, although she sent him to pick the customers up only because he was nearest their location.

Cab drivers know there are risks, even with clean-cut fares, she said.

"These people were so polite with Eric," she said.

But the female suspect sat and watched as the male suspect tore at Drake with a knife, she said. Drake was still buckled into his car seat, she added.

Drake had been driving a cab only for two years, but she has had her own cab for eight years. She said she once dealt with a male customer who held a pair of shears eight inches from her.

But Miller said she has never felt so angry and had so many questions about what is happening to the community.

"My 17-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter insist we get out of the business," she said.

Miller said she knows other cab drivers in the city who are afraid to pick up fares. She wondered if cabs in Juneau need wire partitions between drivers and customers as cabs have in New York.

"I've heard so many people say they are upset," Miller said of the crime. People question how something so random and brutal can happen in Juneau, she said.

Miller hopes her fiancé will be able to use his hands some day. But today citizens can find the people who attacked him, she said.

"I need everyone to pull together."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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