By Kathryn Costello and Patrick Markey
Fear and anger gripped Woodside’s tight-knit community last week following reports that five Irish immigrants were among the victims assaulted by a serial sex attacker operating as a taxi driver.
In the predominantly Irish neighborhood, shock has forced residents to take extra precautions when socializing in an area most believed safe from violent crime. And many, especially younger women, say for the first time they feel unnerved and concerned for their safety at night.
"I wouldn’t walk home after 9 o’clock. Now I’d be more cautious," said Donegal native Lisa Beirne, who was drinking on Friday night at Copper Face Jack’s bar on Woodside Avenue.
"It’s a concern. You’d call a cab or go home in numbers now, not on your own," she said.
Others said they now faced a new dilemma, to walk home a few blocks or take on the many private cabs which crowd the streets outside Woodside’s bars.
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"A taxi driver is supposed to be someone you can trust, and then you find out he’s not even taking you home," said Mary, a 27-year-old Galway women. "It’s a catch 22. You might feel safer now walking the two blocks home."
Ellen Kelly said she would often come out of a bar, and jump into one of the livery cabs parked outside. She no longer feels she can do that. Kelly said for her and her friends that is a worrying problem in an area where yellow cabs are in short supply.
Mary Faughnan has lived right in the center of Woodside for two years. News of the attacks has left her nervous and scared. She admits that she never thought that Woodside would become unsafe.
For the area’s bar managers, the attacks have heightened awareness about the safety of their clients.
Chris Santangelo, a bar man in Donovan’s bar on 47th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, has lived in Woodside for 30 years. He said the neighborhood had always been a safe, close community, and he has never encountered anything like this.
"It enrages me, that people who are out for a good time should have to be so cautious on account of this one guy," he said.
Santangelo admits to feeling a tangible edge in the air, and is relieved that the media coverage has made people more aware of the danger.
Similarly, Jack Donovan, whose family have owned Donovan’s bar for 34 years, is ensuring the safety of staff and customers alike. He relies on one reliable car company to transport his entire Irish waitress staff and customers.
Donovan said perhaps the illegal status of some of the Irish in Woodside attracted the rapist to them as potential victims.
"This guy is preying on immigrants," he said. "He figures if the immigrants press charges they will have no basis for a prosecution."