Originally created 01/25/02

Police curb traveler's taxi trek to Alaska



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville woman's turbulent transcontinental taxi trek apparently has sputtered to at least a temporary halt after a motel disturbance in northern California prompted police to detain her for a mental health evaluation.

Patricia Agness left Jacksonville last week with the intention of riding a taxicab 10,000 miles to Juneau, Alaska, "to see polar bears and glaciers" and back home again. But while at a motel several hours from the Oregon border, authorities were called to intervene.

"Sometime during the evening, she caused a disturbance in a motel, so the motel owner gave her her money back and called police," Fort Bragg, Calif., interim Police Chief Bruce Cumming said.

The cab driver said he and Ms. Agness checked into a motel Monday, "but she wouldn't stay in her room, and the motel manager would not let her sleep in a chair in the lobby." The manager called police because Ms. Agness would not leave the lobby and return to her room, the driver said.

"Police went and talked to her, and she was making some unusual statements, so we determined she was in need of mental health evaluation," Chief Cumming said.

He did not elaborate on the comments.

If someone seems to be a danger to themselves or others or is considered gravely disabled, California police can hold them for up to 72 hours while they are evaluated. By the end of that time, the person must be released, voluntarily sign themselves in for treatment or be placed on a 14-day involuntary hold, according to the Mental Health Association in California.

Officials at the Mendocino County Health Department declined to discuss the situation, saying confidentiality laws prevented them from acknowledging they had ever heard of the individual.

The ambitious journey - which has received media coverage from Vietnam, Australia, London and Canada - hit its first bump when Ms. Agness and the two Gator City Taxi cabbies who contracted to drive her parted ways in Buellton, Calif., a coastal city about 2,500 miles from Jacksonville.

The road-weary drivers, Joe Gattuso and Safdar Hussein, had been taking eight-hour shifts behind the wheel since leaving Jan. 16 and stopped in Buellton with the intention of taking showers and getting some sleep.

But three hours after their arrival, Ms. Agness wanted to get back on the road. "We hardly got any sleep," Mr. Gattuso said.

The conditions behind the trip started to raise concerns about safety.

Ms. Agness hired Orange Cab Co. in nearby Santa Barbara to continue her trip but apparently hired George Steele, who owns United Cab Co., after arriving in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Mr. Steele, a former police officer in Washington, drove Ms. Agness as far as the motel in Fort Bragg.

"I had no idea what I was dealing with," Mr. Steele said.

"Initially, I was supposed to pick her up in San Luis Obispo at 10 a.m. Monday, but at 5:30 a.m. she said she needed to leave right away. I hadn't had any sleep, and neither had she."

Mr. Steele was paid $1,500 in cash for his service - about half of what the fare would typically be for such a distance - and returned home.

"She is a sweet and very nice lady, but I also started to realize as the conversation went on that she was not as logical a thinker as I would like her to be," Mr. Steele said.