New Orleans — When New Orleans taxi driver Sheicho Delbar, 35, was killed this weekend, his fellow cab drivers angrily complained that the expensive security cameras the city of New Orleans forced them to install last year didn’t keep him safe and never solved the crime.
In fact, one of the cases they pointed to as proof of the cameras’ failure was the carjacking and burning of taxi driver Charles Octanel in December. On Sunday, New Orleans police did use a taxi’s security camera to make arrest, but in a strange twist, it was Octanel who was arrested.
Police booked Octanel, 41, with filing a false police report, injuring public records, money laundering and insurance fraud after investigators say he lied about being carjacked and burned alive to hide a scheme to collect more than $4,000 in insurance money from his taxi. Octanel, who previously lived in Metairie, had moved to Florida and was extradited last weekend.
In December, Octanel told police and a news reporter a harrowing tale of robbery and attempted murder that ended with thieves trying to burn him alive in his car. The incident allegedly began near Canal Street where Octanel claims he picked up a woman who needed a ride and was carrying a gallon container.
However, Octanel told police that after his act of kindness, the woman flagged down two other men on the street who jumped into the cab and forced Octanel to drive to eastern New Orleans at gunpoint. Octanel said another vehicle trailed his taxi as he made the drive to a secluded area off France Road.
Octanel told police that when he got to the location, the assailants threw gasoline on his car with him inside, set it on fire and then robbed him at gunpoint. They drove off and left him in the burning vehicle, which Octanel only escaped through a front window, he claimed. He also said the robbers disabled the new security cameras he had just installed on the taxi.
Octanel sustained serious burns to his hands and body from the fire.
When police recovered the vehicle during the investigation, they found that the camera and accompanying recording equipment had been severely damaged in the fire, according to court records. However, detectives were able to send that equipment to its manufacturer, where video was recovered and sent to police in February.
When police examined those images, they found that Octanel never picked up anyone during the time he claimed to have been carjacked and was completely alone in his taxi, the records state. An arrest warrant was issued for Octanel, and he was arrested in Florida last month. He has since been released by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. A hearing in his case has been set for June.
Police have said they are still retracing Delbar’s steps in Sunday’s homicide. City officials noted that they are considering changes to how the security cameras and panic buttons in taxis operate after persistent complaints from drivers. Delbar was the third taxi driver killed in New Orleans in the past year.