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Missing cabbie: Foul play or runaway?

July 31, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Kenneth Wayne Bradford radioed Turner Taxi a week ago Wednesday at about 9 p.m. and told the dispatcher that he was taking three men from Noland Village to Queens, N.Y.

He said he took the $450 up front.

That was the last anyone has heard from him.

Bradford's sudden disappearance has sent shock waves through his colleagues at the company and has left family and police alike searching for answers.

Cab company owner George Turner said representatives of the company were going to retrieve the cab Wednesday from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where it was found abandoned in the parking lot of the airport.

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Hagerstown City Police say the cab revealed no signs of foul play.

But they appear no closer than they were a week ago to explaining the whereabouts of a man who had been driving a cab for only a couple of weeks.

Nearly unprecedented

Turner said he can recall a similar situation only once before in the 27 years he has owned the company. In that case, he said officials discovered that the driver had simply abandoned a cab that was reported missing.

He said speculation in this case is pointless. He said he immediately reported the incident to the police and added that he can only wait now.

"I don't know that he went to New York. He said he did. Until we find him, we won't know," he said. "There doesn't appear to be foul play. That doesn't mean there wasn't. I'm a very patient man."

Turner said his drivers have been victims of strong-arm robberies and other crimes from time to time. One of the more serious offenses was a carjacking in January when a man hijacked one of his cabs and used it to rob a bank.

But in all of his years, Turner said he has never lost a driver. And since his drivers hear things on the street, he said the vast majorities of crimes against his employees get solved.

In this case, for instance, he said he received a tip that the taxi was headed south days before police reported that it was in South Carolina.

"You take these things with a grain of salt," he said. "They said I was looking in the wrong direction, that I should move south."

As for the fare to New York, Turner said it is far from unheard of to take passengers out of town. He said fares to Baltimore and Washington are fairly frequent and he added that he, himself, has taken people to Ohio and North Carolina.

"It happens. We don't go to New York every day, but it happens," he said.

'Nothing significant'

Bradford, 29, was born in Hagerstown and graduated from South Hagerstown High School, said his mother, Carolyn Hawthorne. Hawthorne said her son worked on and off as a bricklayer for a number of companies.

When work slowed down about two weeks ago, she said he took a job with Turner.

Turner said Bradford's imposing size - 6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds - belies an otherwise average impression.

"There was nothing really significant about the guy. He was a pretty big fellow but there was nothing remarkable about him," he said.

Hawthorne said she last spoke with her son on July 21 but was not concerned until she learned the company reported him missing.

"It wasn't anything unusual," she said. "He's usually pretty busy. He usually calls me about once a week."

Added Bradford's stepfather, David Hawthorne: "There's weeks at a time that we don't hear anything from him."

Bradford's sister, Christina Bradford, said her brother was trying to put his life back together after an unpleasant breakup with his girlfriend about two years ago. Before that, he had a marriage that lasted for a few months, she said.

Bradford said her brother had moved around quite a bit during that time, last living with their other sister on Summit Avenue.

Past charges

A dispute with his girlfriend in 1995 led to charges of first- and fourth-degree burglary and theft. Those charges were placed on the inactive docket last year, according the Washington County Circuit Court records.

Bradford was also convicted of drug possession in 1989, according to Washington County District Court records.

But his mother insisted they have nothing to do with her son's disappearance.

"That was all taken care of. That's all behind him," Hawthorne said.

Still, she and Christina Bradford both said there is a fair chance Bradford took the cab. Hawthorne said her son became close with his father when he was in 11th grade. When he died about three years ago, she said, her son took it hard.

Christina Bradford said she had recently made plans to go the beach this August with her brother. And she saw him the night before he disappeared and he said nothing. So, she said she finds it hard to believe he just decided to leave.

On the other hand, she said her brother made it clear that the taxi job was temporary and talked of getting a bus ticket and heading south where the masonry work is more steady.

She said she hopes that's the case; the alternative is too grim. Bradford said she finds herself in the awkward position of hoping that her brother winds up arrested.

"I'd like to hear he's been arrested rather than they've found a body," she said. "I'd much rather go visit him out there (in jail) than the cemetery."

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