HACKETTSTOWN — Last week, one child in town was waiting for a ride from a friend, while another nearby was waiting for a cab.

And when an cab driver — operating an unlicensed taxi business — picked up the wrong child, it became another example of what police say is a growing problem across the state, authorities say.

The incident happened on the morning of Nov. 21 when 41-year-old Dover resident Jaime Ramirez mistakenly picked up a child and brought the child to school, according to police. The child was just 7 years old.

Sgt. Darren Tynan said that the police department has had issues with illegal taxi companies in the past, but that this is the first time it got a report of one of the cabs picking up the wrong passenger.

"We do have issues with illegal taxis, just like probably other towns throughout New Jersey that might have an issue with illegal taxis in their town as well," he said.

Ramirez-Gonzalez, who was driving for the Metro Car Service, was charged with being an unlicensed taxi driver. The owner of the car service, Sergio Rojas, 36, of Hackettstown was charged with allowing an unlicensed taxi driver, having an unlicensed taxi, not having a vehicle inspected and not having taxi insurance. The men were released pending a future court date.

Tynan said that Metro Car Service does have one registered car in the town, as well as two registered drivers — but that Ramirez-Gonzales is not one of them, and was not driving the registered car.

Identifying illegal cabs can be a challenge for police, but Tynan said in Hackettstown all licensed cabs are yellow and have the registered taxi number on the car.

Short of that, he said, even when an illegal cab is pulled over, the driver will often tell the officer involved that he or she is driving the passenger "for a friend," and that there's "no way to really determine if that's true or not."

"Some of the issues that we get is there will be other taxis that might pick somebody up in a surrounding town and come into Hackettstown and drop off, which is not illegal," he said. "The issue is picking somebody up in town and taking them out, which is when it could become a violation."

Tynan said he hopes this incident will be ia warning for people looking to get a ride in a cab. He said he registered cabs in the town go through annual inspections, and drivers are have background check done before they are licensed.

"This was just a freak thing that happened, and hopefully it doesn't happen again," he said.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com


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