Recent shooting of Korean cab driver leaves others at Bethel reeling


This story originally appeared KYUK.org and is republished here with permission.

Earlier this month a Korean cab driver was shot in the face at Bethel and survived. The attack is the third Korean cab driver in Bethel to have been shot or violently assaulted in the past 15 years.

On July 5, 67-year-old Korean cab driver Myeong Keun Lee was shot in the face during a late night shift. The man who shot Lee stole her cab and left her on Bethel’s Puttermigan Road, before a passerby spotted her and called the police. Bethel Police Chief Richard Simmons said officers were pursuing several suspects, but no arrests had been made in connection with the case.

Simmons said Lee was in stable condition as of July 9, and was undergoing facial reconstructive surgery in Seattle. KYUK remained unable to reach Lee for comment.

The recent attack has shocked other Korean cab drivers in Bethel.

Bethel cab driver Jeon Soo Choi said, “I am very scared now because the same thing could happen to me.”

After all, Bethel has a history of violence against Korean cab drivers. In 2006, Joo Young Jong, a 41-year-old Korean cab driver, was also shot in the face, but Jong died. No one was ever charged in his death. In 2012, another Korean cab driver, 54-year-old Young Suk Chong, who went by “Suzie”, was stabbed to death after his body was found in the back of his cab. One man was charged with her murder and sentenced to 45 years in prison.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and violence against Asians has increased across the country. Simmons said there was no evidence that this most recent shooting was a racially motivated crime.

Lee drove for Cusco Cab, a Bethel cab company. Jang Chul Mun, who is Korean, is the co-owner of Cusco Cab and also drives for the company. Munn said only the shooter would know whether the attack was motivated by racism.

Cab drivers are more likely to be killed by homicide while on the job than those working in any other profession. They are four times more likely to be killed on the job than police officers, according to a study published in 2000 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Add to that a dangerous work environment at Bethel, where violent crime rates are five to six times the national average, according to FBI data, and Bethel cab drivers are more likely to be injured.

At Bethel, most cab drivers are Korean. Korean immigrants often move to Bethel if their Native American dream is not fulfilled. Many of them pursue cab driving as the job does not require a high level of English fluency.

After the shooting on July 5, Cusco Cab co-owner Mun said he is warning his drivers to be more careful than usual. Even in such situations when passengers have to pay cab fare, he is advising them to avoid conflict.

Simon Lee, another Korean Bethel cab driver who drives for Alaska Cab, said, “I think if I provide good service to passengers, I’ll probably be safe.”

Other drivers are getting off the road to save themselves. Mun said his drivers are skipping late-night-early shifts to avoid drunk passengers.

Munn worries that there won’t be enough drivers on the road to meet Bethel’s demand for cabs. He said 35% of Cusco cab drivers have already quit during the pandemic for fear of getting sick. Now that one of her drivers has been shot, she is worried that another accident might happen. In a town where the one who shot the cab driver is still open, Mun said, “Who would want to drive a cab?”

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