Slain cabbie John Dooley looked out for his customers

Published Dec. 21, 2013

TAMPA — John Dooley was the kind of cab driver who took the same old women to the same doctors for years.

He was the kind who would chauffeur his fares to Ybor or wherever else, until the bars closed.

He also took calls other drivers avoided.

On Dec. 8, Mr. Dooley, a 32-year veteran with Yellow Cab, responded to a call in East Tampa. One of the men who got into the cab fatally shot him, police said.

Mr. Dooley was 56.

"He was a part of our lives," said Tammy Inman, 47, who got to know Mr. Dooley as a cab driver and then as a friend.

Mr. Dooley often worked at night, finding addresses with a side-mounted, police-strength spotlight. He paid $92 a shift to lease the cab, then paid for his own gas.

Drivers don't start making a profit until they take in about $150 in fares, said Arthur Spike, who shared a cab with Mr. Dooley for nine years.

There was money to be made. A friend of Inman's counted on Mr. Dooley to deliver a gallon of rum and cigarettes to his house, rewarding the cabbie with $100 tips.

But the commodity Mr. Dooley valued most was friendship, not fares.

Barbara Rosenthal and her partner, Chris Salter, had been riding with Mr. Dooley since 2007. They shared an appreciation for 1960s rock 'n' roll.

"We'd get in the cab and he'd have something very obscure on, and we'd have to guess what was on," said Rosenthal, 48. "That was the game we played."

All three also rooted for the Tampa Bay Rays and went to games together in Mr. Dooley's cab. Even apart, he vented in text messages over Joe Maddon decisions or blown saves.

"If they made a bonehead play, my phone went off," Rosenthal said.

Her work as a documentary filmmaker hit a dry patch about four years ago. The twice-a-week cab rides dwindled to none.

After six weeks without a call, Mr. Dooley texted that he was coming over. He insisted that the couple get out for the evening. Then he drove them to an Ybor City night spot, gave them $30 to spend and took them home a few hours later.

John M. Dooley was born in Rahway, N.J., in 1957, the son of an oil company executive.

He moved to Pasco County with his family as a teenager and earned a high school equivalency degree. He drove a truck for a while, then latched on with Yellow Cab.

His own lifestyle was not much different from those of his workaday customers. Mr. Dooley lived in a Hudson mobile home with James Dooley, his brother and a Times circulation supervisor.

He delivered groceries to his mother in assisted living twice a week, then stayed for dinner.

"He was my rock," said Joan Dooley, 88.

After 32 years on the job, Mr. Dooley took calls considered too risky by other drivers.

"I told him I think he should stop working in that neighborhood, but he wouldn't stop," said Spike, 63.

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About 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Mr. Dooley picked up three passengers on Mallory Avenue, between College Hill and Ybor City. He drove into Sulphur Springs when one of the men shot him.

Devante Bell, 19, was charged with first-degree murder. The other two men remained at large Friday.

News about the cab driver's murder filtered quickly to friends. Inman saw a report on television and started making phone calls.

Was it John? She thought so.

Detectives showed up at Joan Dooley's residence. She appreciated their kindness.

Rosenthal, who had exchanged Christmas gifts with Dooley a year ago, said she and her partner are "completely shocked."

"It took a couple of days not to be in denial about it."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.