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Fears grow for safety of missing cabbie

August 01, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Kenneth Wayne Bradford had been working for Turner Taxi for only a few weeks when, at about 9 p.m. on July 23, he radioed the dispatcher that he was taking three men from Noland Village to Queens, N.Y.

He said he took the $450 payment up front.

He failed to return, and the cab was found abandoned in the parking lot of the airport at Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Bradford's disappearance has left family and police searching for answers.

Hagerstown City Police say there were no signs of foul play in the cab, which is being returned to Hagerstown.

"As far as we know, he drove it down there but we don't know for sure," said Detective George Brandt.

Police have received unconfirmed reports that Bradford has been seen in Hagerstown since the cab disappeared, Brandt said.

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

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He said speculation was pointless, and that all he can do now is wait.

"I don't know that he went to New York. He said he did. Until we find him, we won't know," Turner said.

"There doesn't appear to be foul play. That doesn't mean there wasn't," Turner said.

Turner said his drivers occasionally have been victims of strong-arm robberies and other crimes. 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.

Turner said he has never lost a driver. And since his drivers hear things on the street, he said most crimes against his employees are 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.

Turner said it is not unheard of for a driver to take passengers out of town. He said fares to Baltimore and Washington are fairly common and that he has driven people to Ohio and North Carolina.

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

Turner said Bradford's imposing size - 6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds - was what made him stand out.

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

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 a few weeks ago, he took a job with Turner, she said.

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

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

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 had been trying to put his life back together after breaking up with his girlfriend about two years ago. Before that, he had a marriage that lasted a few months, she said.

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

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 to Washington County Circuit Court records.

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

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

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

Hawthorne said her son became close to his father when he was in 11th grade. When his father died about three years ago, she said, her son took it hard.

Christina Bradford said she recently had made plans to go to the beach this August with her brother. 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 masonry work is steadier.

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