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Woman, 83, arrested in dispute over $117 taxi fare

An 83-year-old Port Richey woman was arrested Saturday for refusing to pay a $117 cab fare.

Catherine Saloma took a United Cab from Tampa International Airport to her daughter's home in Port Richey, expecting the fare to be in the $25 to $30 range of shuttle services she has taken in the past.

But when she arrived at her destination in the white Ford Aerostar minivan, cab driver Christopher Igbokwe of Tampa read her the meter: $117, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office; $118, by Saloma's recollection.

"I almost had a heart attack," Saloma said Sunday. "I said, "You're crazy. You're out of your mind. I'm going to tell you something. There's no way I'm ever going to pay $118 for a taxi.' "

Saloma, who flies to New York to see family about twice a year, said that when she boarded the minivan in Tampa shortly after 10 a.m., she believed it was a limousine service such as Supershuttle, which charges $25 for one passenger to Port Richey. She said she never saw a meter charging her by the mile and the van didn't look like a regular cab.

Both Saloma and Igbokwe called the Sheriff's Office, Saloma said. By the time a deputy arrived, the cab driver told Saloma the fare had ticked up to $188, Saloma said.

"Go ahead and arrest me," Saloma told sheriff's Deputy Matthew Kadel when he arrived on the scene and advised her that if she didn't pay the cab fare, she would be taken to jail.

"There is no use arguing," Saloma's daughter, Kathleen Kristan, told Kadel, according to the incident report. "My mother is thick-headed and Italian."

Kadel finally advised the grandmother of 13 that she was under arrest. He fingerprinted Saloma, charged her with petit theft. Rather than take her to Land O'Lakes jail, Kadel issued her a notice to appear in court at a date to be scheduled later.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rick Moore said Sunday that the office didn't feel it was necessary to lock up an 83-year-old woman under the circumstances.

Igbokwe could not be reached by the Times on Sunday. A dispatcher at United Cab said no one from the company would be available to talk about the incident until Monday.

"I feel bad because he was a very nice man," Saloma, a retired receptionist from Brooklyn, said of the cab driver.

Igbokwe told deputies that Saloma flagged him down at the airport, according to the incident report. But Saloma said she was seated in an airport-issued wheelchair inside the airport when Igbokwe approached her and asked her if she needed a ride.

"He didn't say this was going to cost $118," she said. "He didn't say anything."

Until Saturday, Saloma said, her only other run-in with the law was when one of her four sons stole a bicycle as a kid. She said her punishment was so firm he never crossed the law again.

She's not happy about her own arrest.

"The judge is going to hear my side of the story," she said Sunday. She said her fixed income can't afford the cost of the 35-mile ride.

And what if the judge tells her she has to pay the fare?

"I'll pay $1 a day, if I have to," she said.

Petit theft is considered a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.