The procession of ugly in domestic violence court is endless. The faces are bruised, defiant, sad. • So Circuit Judge John C. Lenderman couldn't help but feel moved one day when he witnessed a moment of compassion. • He was about to take a break when a man and a woman rushed to the podium. • "I-i-i-i'm late," stuttered the woman, who also had a German accent. "I-i-i-m real-l-l-ly sorry." • David Cook stepped forward. • "I'm her taxi driver," he said. "It's my fault she's late." • Cook drove for United Taxi. He asked the judge to give the woman another hearing. He'd make sure she arrived on time. • Lenderman had already dismissed the case. But it wasn't often the judge saw someone so concerned about a stranger. • "Can I have your phone number?" he asked Cook. "I want to give it to older people I know, who rely on taxis." • Cook smiled. • He liked helping people. • Maybe a little too much.
David Cook is 53, with a kind face and the hunched posture of a monk, which he is not.
He came here 15 years ago from Canada, where he had a construction landscaping business and a huge house. He lost all of that.
He has a wife who has cancer, about 20 Bengal cats and a lot of people in his life who need help.
There's the guy he met on the side of the road whom he helped find work. The unemployed father of two whose phone bill he has paid for three years. The homeless couple he put up in a motel.
Cook makes their problems his own. Most people give because it makes them feel good or look good or because they feel guilty driving past the guy with the cardboard sign. Cook gives because he needs to.
Judy Conner, a former co-worker whom Cook once graced with cash, a phone and a place to stay, said she saw Cook help at least 10 people. "This guy felt guilty sleeping," said Conner, "because he wanted to be out earning money to help people."
• • •
Time to pick up the German woman, Monika Gregory, and take her back to court.
Cook is in his Honda Pilot instead of a cab. More on that later. His wife, Doris, is in the passenger seat.
"Come on, David," she's saying. "You're going to be late."
Gregory and a witness in her case pile into the car.
"So Monika, what happened, some guy attacked you or something?" asks Doris.
Yes, Gregory answers. She'd argued with her roommate about the rent. He had a screwdriver and a box cutter.
"Well that's not good," Doris replies.
They pull up in front of the courthouse. David Cook goes inside with Gregory. Doris heads off to do an errand, promises to pick them up in a few hours.
But things move quickly in court and they are done in 20 minutes. They sit outside on the steps, waiting for Doris.
"You are a male version of Mother Teresa," Gregory tells Cook. She doesn't say anything about his missing cab.
Cook's eyes are sunken from no sleep. He begins to talk. It becomes clear that it's the cabbie who needs help.
He and his wife have been evicted and have moved to a trailer in Pinellas Park.
Then, a week ago, he lost his cab job. He was rushing to pick up a client when he saw a shirtless guy on the side of the road, shouting that he'd been robbed. Cook picked him up. Then, distracted by Shirtless Guy yelling in his backseat, Cook rear-ended someone at a traffic light.
Shirtless Guy robbed him. It was the fourth time he'd been robbed in recent months.
United Taxi general manager Alan Weatherilt decided Cook was too naive to be a cabdriver. He suggested he give it up. There was nothing wrong with being a Good Samaritan, he told him, but be smart about the people you put in your car.
• • •
Three days later, Cook was pulled over by Clearwater police. On the floor of his car, they found 0.1 grams of rock cocaine. He was arrested, charged with possession of cocaine and taken to jail.
He says a drug dealer dropped it in his car. He'd given the guy a ride. He was just trying to help.