A driver who regularly volunteers as part of an organization to bring patients to New York City hospitals free of charge was fined and his vehicle impounded Monday when a city agent thought he was illegally operating a driving service. The whole incident was later deemed a misunderstanding, but the damage was done.
According to the New York Daily News, 25-year-old Yeshaya Liebowitz was shuttling two people to area hospitals as part of the Jewish charity Chesed when he was stopped by one of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission agents.
“I tried to explain to him we’re not a car service,” Liebowitz told the Daily News.
Liebowitz and the two women he was transporting -- one a cancer patient -- were told by the officer to get out of the car. Liebowitz was given a $2,000 fine and his vehicle was taken from him.
“I tried to explain to him that I drive people to the hospital. I don’t do it for money -- I pay the tolls, I pay for gas, I pay my time,” Liebowtiz told the New York Post. “The woman tried to explain to him that she is a cancer patient, and I have to go to the hospital. He just ignored them.”
At this point, Liebowitz called the Orthodox Jewish nonprofit Misaskim for help in the situation. The agent issuing the ticket allegedly said the two women discussed how much they would pay for fare before getting in the car. But Yeshiva World News reported that this was "an outright lie, as both women have never before seen this TLC Police Officer, nor have ever communicated with anyone at the TLC in their lives." The World News also noted that no money is ever collected by these volunteer drivers.
"They were simply stopped because the officer saw a Chasidic male driver, with two females in the backseat, which may seem as if it was a car service with the vehicle not properly having TLC Plates," Yeshiva World News' Chaim Shapiro wrote.
The two women were left without a ride to their appointments until another Chesed volunteer picked them up.
“This is his good deed, and he got slapped in the face for it,” one of the woman told the New York Post. “It’s hard for people to understand that people do good. He just did this out of the kindness of his heart.”
“This is truly a case of ‘no good deed goes unpunished,'" city Councilman David Greenfield said in a statement to Yeshiva World News. "This kind of behavior by the Taxi & Limousine Commission is midas s’dom. It’s astonishing that any law enforcement official can be so callous as to leave two cancer patients stranded on the way to the hospital. I have asked the TLC for a full investigation into this matter and to the allegations that the office lied about the circumstances of impounding this vehicle.”
The Daily News reported that the fine was later dropped and the car returned to Liebowitz with the whole situation being called "a misunderstanding."
Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said on his website that he was pleased by the speed with which the commission remedied the situation.
“Not only is the agency acting quickly and releasing Mr. Liebowitz’s car, they have also set a meeting at my office to work out a system so these types of unfortunate incidents do not reoccur," Hikind wrote.
The commission's spokesman Allan Fromberg told the Post that the situation was "regretful" and that it was taking steps to prevent misunderstandings like this in the future.