California police put brakes on woman's taxi trek to Alaska

Florida woman held for mental checkup

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

A Florida woman's turbulent transcontinental taxi trek to Juneau has sputtered to at least a temporary halt after a motel disturbance in Northern California prompted police to detain her for a mental-health evaluation.

Patricia Agness left Jacksonville last week with the intention of riding a taxicab 10,000 miles to Juneau, "to see polar bears and glaciers" and back home again. The 55-year-old, known to drivers as "Miss Patricia," does not drive and won't ride planes, buses or trains.

But while at a motel several hours from the Oregon border, authorities were called to intervene.

"Sometime during the evening, she caused a disturbance in a motel, so the motel owner gave her her money back and called police," Fort Bragg (Calif.) interim Police Chief Bruce Cumming said.

The cab driver said he and Agness checked into a motel Monday, "but she wouldn't stay in her room and the motel manager would not let her sleep in a chair in the lobby." The manager called police because Agness would not leave the lobby and return to her room, the driver said.

"Police went and talked to her and she was making some unusual statements, so we determined she was in need of mental-health evaluation," Cumming said. He did not elaborate on her statements.

If someone seems to be a danger to themselves or others or is considered gravely disabled, California police can hold them for up to 72 hours while they are evaluated. By the end of that time, the person must be released, voluntarily sign themselves in for treatment or be placed on a 14-day involuntary hold, according to the Mental Health Association in California.

Officials at the Mendocino County Health Department declined to discuss the situation, citing confidentiality laws.

The ambitious journey - which has received news media coverage from as far as Vietnam and England - hit its first bump when Agness and the two Florida cabbies who contracted to drive her parted ways in Buellton, Calif., about 2,500 miles into the trip.

The road-weary drivers, Joe Gattuso and Safdar Hussein, had been taking eight-hour shifts behind the wheel since leaving Jan. 16 and stopped in Buellton with the intention of taking showers and getting some sleep.

But three hours after their arrival, Agness wanted to get back on the road. "We hardly got any sleep," Gattuso said.

Agness then hired Orange Cab Co. in nearby Santa Barbara to continue her trip but apparently hired George Steele, who owns United Cab Co., after arriving in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Steele, a former police officer in Washington, D.C., and in his native Glasgow, Scotland, drove Agness as far as the motel in Fort Bragg.

"I had no idea what I was dealing with," Steele said Wednesday. "Initially, I was supposed to pick her up in San Luis Obispo at 10 a.m. Monday, but at 5:30 a.m. she said she needed to leave right away. I hadn't had any sleep and neither had she."

Steele was paid $1,500 in cash for his service - about half of what the fare would typically be for such a distance - and returned home.

"She is a sweet and very nice lady, but I also started to realize as the conversation went on that she was not as logical a thinker as I would like her to be," Steele said.

Although Steele said he frequently drives celebrities around in limousines in his business, he'd never had a hire quite like this before in his life.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out, because I would have enjoyed taking her to Alaska and all the way back to Jacksonville," he said.

Steele said Agness told him the trip was a reward to herself for inheriting some money after a bitter probate fight over a relative's estate.

"I'd love to hear the end of the story if she manages to get there and back," he said.

Jessie-Lynne Kerr can be reached at jkerr@jacksonville.com. David C.L. Bauer can be reached at dbauer@jacksonville.com.



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