Blake Helmer was just trying to make an honest buck.
The 55-year-old taxicab driver’s last fares, police said, were less industrious and thought they could get a few easy dollars off him.
In the course of trying to rob Helmer on Tuesday night in Gretna, at least one of the three men who got into his car shot him and left him for dead.
Police said they responded within a minute of receiving a call about 8 p.m. of shots fired at Hancock and Rupp streets and tried in vain to save the life of a man described as easygoing and selfless.
Meanwhile, other officers began to search for those who shot him.
In short order they found three suspects. Jonah Brown, 17, and Ivory Warren, 18, each were booked on a count of first-degree murder, said Gretna Police Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana. Tavon Corley, 19, was booked as an accessory to first-degree murder.
While he declined to say who investigators believe fired the shots that killed Helmer, Christiana said there were two gunmen and two weapons used, indicating Brown and Warren are suspected of being the shooters.
Christiana said bullets began to fly almost as soon as Helmer picked up the fares.
Investigators suspect the men demanded something from Helmer after they got in the cab.
They figure that Helmer reached for his wallet but that the men might have thought he was grabbing for a gun, Christiana said.
Within a quarter of a block, Helmer was shot and the men scrambled out of the car. “He didn’t have a chance to give them anything,” Christiana said.
In addition to hearing gunfire, callers told 911 dispatchers they saw three men run from a cab stopped at Franklin and Rupp streets.
Gretna police who responded to the call saw two men running from the area. Another unit spotted a third man on his own who was apparently trying to flee the scene.
When officers tried to stop the two men on Burmaster Street, they ran away, beginning a foot chase that ended in the Fischer housing development at Hendee and Thayer streets in nearby Algiers.
Gretna police, with the assistance of New Orleans police, set up a perimeter in the area and called in the Gretna K-9 unit. Brown was found hiding under a home.
By 6:30 a.m. Warren and Corley had surrendered and were booked in connection with the murder, Christiana said.
The comparatively rare first-degree murder charge stemmed from the facts that the men apparently were trying to rob Helmer and that he was a taxicab driver.
State law defines first-degree murder as involving the “specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm” while someone “is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration” of various other crimes, including armed robbery. In recent years, the statute was revised to add the “specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm upon a taxicab driver who is in the course and scope of his employment.”
Glenn Green, who owns Glenn’s Cab Service, said Helmer was a driver for more than two decades and that the call seemed legitimate when it came in on Tuesday night.
It would take some time for him and his dispatchers to learn that the name and phone number the caller gave the dispatcher were bogus.
Green rushed to the scene when he heard about the shooting and was hopeful his longtime friend would survive.
Helmer initially was responsive and coherent.
“He said, ‘Glenn, I’ve been shot,’ ” Green recalled. “I didn’t think he was going to die.”
But the multiple gunshot wounds were too much. He died a short time later in surgery at the hospital.
“We don’t have any people out here who deserve to get shot,” Green said. “They make a poor man’s living trying to pay their bills.”
Green said that Helmer, whom he’s known for about 30 years, grew up near Lafitte. Their families knew each other because they both operated trawler boats.
For the past 20 years or so Helmer made a modest living behind the wheel.
Christiana said he was known for giving free rides to one disabled Gretna resident.
“He was a very kindhearted man,” the deputy chief said. “He was a generous individual.”
That’s how Green said he also will remember his friend.
Helmer often would wait outside the Jefferson Parish jail and give rides to those who were just released.
During the rides he would recite Bible passages to his passengers and offer to take them to church.
Sometimes young women would come to the area for Carnival and wind up in the slammer. Although he didn’t have much to give, it would not be uncommon for Helmer to drive the women to the bus station in New Orleans and buy them a ticket home, Green said.
“You couldn’t ask for a better man,” Green said.
Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter @DCMonteverde.