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Despite Augusta's cruelty, taxi driver doesn't give up on city

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012 3:03 PM
Last updated 9:28 PM
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No matter how unfair life in Augusta seemed to become, Taiwo Olan never blamed the city.

Taiwo Olan owned the gas station on Lumpkin Road where a mother stabbed her two children to death in 2007. After the murders, Olan said he had to close the station because the slayings scared business away. He now owns a taxi business.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Taiwo Olan owned the gas station on Lumpkin Road where a mother stabbed her two children to death in 2007. After the murders, Olan said he had to close the station because the slayings scared business away. He now owns a taxi business.

Not when a mother stabbed her children to death in his convenience store bathroom in 2007. Not even when he tried to start over with a new shop on Laney-Walker Boulevard, and intruders robbed him 12 times in one year.

Born in Nigeria, Olan came to Augusta in 2002 after living in Atlanta for almost two decades. He hoped the move would allow him to grow a business to support his two young daughters, but instead it taught him how to see the goodness in life despite what seemed like endless cruelty.

“I’ve had bad luck in this city, but I’m a survivor,” he said. “The only one I fear,” he points his index finger to the sky and pauses, “is my Almighty God. My life is in no man’s hands. It’s in God’s hands.”

The moment that changed Olan’s life was when he walked into his convenience store on Lumpkin Road four years ago and saw blood seeping from under the bathroom door.

When police finished with the crime scene, Olan took a hose and bleach to the floor, hoping to scrub away the memories of that day along with the stench of death.

Hours earlier, Jeannette Michelle Hawes, 22, suffered a mental breakdown and stabbed her two children to death inside the bathroom while customers paid for potato chips and gasoline outside.

Almost immediately after the slaying, customers didn’t want to be anywhere near where those two babies died.

Olan went from $5,000 a day in sales to barely $300.

He tried to calm his customers’ fears. Members of the nearby Alleluia Community joined hands in the parking lot and prayed for his business.

But nothing seemed to make people forget.

“Customers said the place was evil,” Olan said. “They said there’s bad spirits, and immediately people said they are not coming back.”

A year later, when he missed enough payments, the property’s owner asked him to leave.

Olan found another shop on Laney-Walker Boulevard in 2009 where he thought he could start fresh.

While running the business, he was commuting every day to be able to spend time with his family who lived in Atlanta.

Nearly once a month, when he’d arrive at the store in the morning from Atlanta, Olan would find the door broken in or a window shattered. Burglars would steal his cigarettes, cigars, food, “anything they could take,” he said.

Pawnee Shaw lived near Laney-Walker and would stop in Olan’s store almost every day for snacks.

She saw customers “cuss him out for no reason.” She saw the scenes after the break-ins and wondered why.

“They did him real bad,” Shaw said. “Maybe it’s because he was an outsider, not from here, I don’t know. People were jealous of him. He is a good man, always made me feel safe, so I don’t get it.”

Olan rented a unit in Providence Place apartments to be closer to his business. One day after work, as he was putting the key into his apartment door, two men ran up to him with a baseball bat and smashed it over his head and back, sending him to the hospital for stitches in what police later told him was an attempted burglary.

As soon as he was well enough to leave the hospital, Olan applied for a gun permit and bought a handgun. Even then, he was too late.

Days after leaving the hospital, he walked into his store to find the 12th burglary that year. This time, intruders smashed in the roof to attack from above. It was at that moment that Olan had enough.

While living in Atlanta in the ’90s, Olan had gotten into the taxi cab business. He had maintained his taxis part-time when he moved to Augusta and decided in 2009 to delve into the business full-time.

The more hours he put in, the more he saw his Speedy Cab of Augusta business grow. Olan now sometimes works 15-hour days, roaming Broad Street on Friday nights for partyers needing a ride or shuttling to the airport to give travelers a lift home.

Olan has grown his taxi business to a four-car fleet with one assistant driver. And while he’d like to see his business grow, Olan said he feels happy when he gets behind the wheel each day.

In his attempts to survive, at no point has Olan thought of running away.

“I won’t leave Augusta because I want to grow with this city,” he said. “I work for my kids. I sacrifice.”

While he’s driving around Augusta offering people rides, his mind sometimes wanders to the day in 2007 when his life changed. He thinks about Hawes, the mother who would come into his store often, and those two children she always lugged behind her.

Then his thoughts go back to his own children and his work, and he can’t help but feel blessed.

“This is life. You can’t say because of this or that you’re not going to do the right thing and keep going,” he said. “Nothing is permanent. You just have to keep going.”


Business: Speedy Cab of Augusta

Born: Nigeria

Family: two daughters, ages 14 and 12

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TK3 01/08/12 - 04:32 pm
God bless him and his weapon

God bless him and his weapon to help keep him and his family safe.

Asitisinaug 01/08/12 - 04:36 pm
What a great person with such

What a great person with such a positive attitude.

I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me – Philippians 4:13

nowhine 01/08/12 - 10:52 pm
This is a good man. We need

This is a good man. We need more like him. I hope he carries his weapon at all times and uses it against the mindless animals out there that perceive him as an easy victim just because he is a good man. Why he persists to try to do an honest business in the midst of a hell hole of inner city Richmond County is beyond me.................. but not beyond God who knows why he sends people to do the things we do not understand.

countyman 01/08/12 - 11:09 pm
The gentrification of the

The gentrification of the area Mr. Olan invested in is one of the most exciting things to watch in recent years.. The redevelopment of Laney Walker and Bethlehem continues to receive national and statewide recognition..

The crime rate in the Laney Walker area continues to decline.. Imagine when the gentrification really gets underway, 2008-2010 was mostly geared towards studying and planning..

seenitB4 01/09/12 - 08:25 am
Robbed 12 times in 1 year &

Robbed 12 times in 1 year & countyman talks about gentrification...

seenitB4 01/09/12 - 08:27 am
ctyman sez... The

ctyman sez...
The gentrification of the area Mr. Olan invested in is one of the most exciting things to watch in recent years..

most exciting??

raul 01/09/12 - 10:10 am
"The crime rate in the Laney

"The crime rate in the Laney Walker area continues to decline." Maybe if Mr. Olan would have stayed, he would have only been robbed 6 times in 1 year.
I wouldn't live in that area for free.

bdouglas 01/09/12 - 11:44 am
You can't fight *perception*

You can't fight *perception* with numbers, no matter how true they may be. If somebody doesn't *feel* safe in an area, no crime statistics are going to change that.

Good on Mr. Olan. I hope his perseverance rewards him, as he certainly sounds like he deserves it. I wonder if he knows that Nigerian prince that keeps emailing me...

countyman 01/09/12 - 04:11 pm
The article is discussing

The article is discussing events that took place in the year 2007.. The real work didn't start until the year 2011..

SeenitB4... I think you need to ride around the area before you comment.. Have you seen the new residential, parks, roads, streetlights, townhomes, etc??

The entire Laney Walker Bethlehem project covers over 1,000 acres.. Every part of the area can't change automatically overnight.. If the crime rate is declining, then the gentrification is working..

If the flagship neighorhood Heritage Pine is selling fast, then the preception is the area is changing for the better. Of course if you live outside of Richmond County, and rely on posters who live outside of Richmond County or the local media for your information.. Then I wouldn't expect you to see the positive things happening..

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