Cab driver recalls experience with accused killer
A Dartmouth cab driver says if he had only known police and hospital staff were looking for a passenger he took in his taxi last Monday, he could have helped them track him down.
Vasily Nadraga says he had second thoughts about taking the fare when he was called to pick him up at an address in Dartmouth the night of April 16.
"He was hyper, like, all his movements," explains Nadraga. "And big too, right? He was not a small guy."
Nadraga says the man and his friend asked him to take them to a cash store on Wyse Road so they could cash a cheque.
They got into his cab around 8 p.m.
Nadraga says he has dealt with aggressive customers before, and he was immediately leery of one of the men.
"When they get in your cab it feels like they get control over the cab," says Nadraga. "They don't hear what you say, they're on their own. They speak loud, plus, he's a big guy. You don't really like to get people like that in your taxi."
Nadraga now recognizes the man as Andre Denny, a psychiatric patient who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of gay rights activist Raymond Taavel.
Taavel, 49, was leaving Menz Bar on Gottingen Street in Halifax around 2:30 a.m. on April 17 when he tried to break up a fight between two men and died from his injuries.
Denny was out on a one-hour pass from the East Coast Forensic Hospital on April 16, but he failed to return when he was supposed to.
Nadraga says he isn't sure how Denny made it to the apartment where he picked him up that night, which is located more than seven kilometers from the hospital.
"I asked his friend ‘who is that guy?' He says ‘he's just a little bit crazy.' A little bit crazy is what he said."
Nadraga says Denny was in the cash store for more than 20 minutes while his friend waited in the cab. He also says he was tempted to just leave, but he wanted to get paid for his fare.
"I said ‘I spent half an hour with you,' like, I won't let you go. I'll call police."
He said their next stop was a nearby liquor store but this time Denny sent his friend in, and he came out with a 60-ounce bottle.
Then, Nadraga says he took the pair back to the apartment where he first picked them up. They arrived around 8:30 p.m. which was the time Denny was due back at the hospital.
Nadraga believes the night may have ended differently if police had sent a description of Denny out to cab dispatchers.
The hospital is responsible for issuing a release after a patient is reported missing, and police will only do so if the patient is thought to be a risk to public safety.
"While we did follow all procedures and look as best we could for him, there was no necessity at that point to put out a release from our department about this particular case," says Const. Brian Palmeter.
The province of Nova Scotia and the Capital Health District are conducting a review to determine whether all of their policies and procedures were followed, and whether they were adequate.
The findings of the review are expected to be released next month.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Garreth MacDonald