Muslim Taxi Family Reaches Out to Mormon Victims in Fatal Crash

03 June 2012

By Juan Cole

The grieving family of a New York City cab driver who was killed in a rainy night accident on the Long Island Expressway reached out to the Utah relatives of the grandmother who died in the same crash, trying to shield her 11 year old grandson in the back, passenger seat.

"Such a wonderful human being that she sacrificed her life to save her grandchild," said the cab driver's cousin, Mohammed Hussain, about 60-year old Suzanne Nicholson.

The grandmother's husband, Dewayne Nicholson, spoke to PIX 11 by phone from their home in Ogden, Utah. "My wife was found lying over her grandson to protect him," Nicholson said. "We're not surprised at all. That's who she was. "

Suzanne Nicholson and her 11 year old grandson, Gabriel Larson, had just landed at John F. Kennedy Airport late Friday night, when they hopped into a cab driven by 46-year old Mohammed Hussain, a Bangladeshi-immigrant who'd been driving taxis for more than twenty years. Hussain's cousin, who has the same name, said the father of two generally never drove on rainy nights, but he was trying to make up lost income–after attending a relative's wedding in Boston.

As the cab neared the Maurice Avenue exit, while driving west on the Long Island Expressway in Queens, another car apparently cut off the taxi, trying to make the exit. That's when Hussain slammed on his brakes, the taxi skidding, before it was hit hard by a garbage truck traveling behind the cab. It's believed Suzanne Nicholson wrapped her body over her young grandson, trying to protect him from injury. Young Gabriel Larson was the only survivor of the taxi crash and had to be cut out of the mangled wreckage by rescue workers. When Larson woke up at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, his grieving parents didn't have the heart to tell him that his beloved grandmother had died. The boy then started asking about going to a Yankees game.

One of Hussain's female cousins, Shirrin Rashed, tearfully spoke of the young survivor. "I really do want to hug that little boy," said Rashed. "I can't imagine the trauma he went through. But our brother's not coming back either," she cried.

The cab driver had two, young sons, 9 year old, Adil, and 13-month old, Aahil.

Adil Hussain spoke to PIX 11, after returning from the burial of his father on Long Island. He shyly gave a message to the 11-year old survivor who lost his grandmother in the crash. "I feel sad for him," Adil Hussain said.

Following Muslim tradition, Adil's mother, Rohima Hussain, was beginning a 40 day mourning period in herOzone Park bedroom. PIX 11 was allowed to go inside to meet her. She sobbed as she recalled that her husband of eleven years was a "good man" who'd never had an accident in his twenty years of driving a cab. She clutched a prayer book in her lap, while her husband's aunt read from the Koran in the living room.

The Nicholson family of Utah are also deeply religious–devout Mormons who pray to Jesus Christ in times of crisis.

Dewayne Nicholson told PIX 11 he was concerned for the sanitation truck driver who smashed into the cab. Nicholson had read about the man on the web. "It really hit me hard what this man's going through," Nicholson said. "My prayers are with him. I hope he can get over this."

Nicholson said he was deeply moved by reports of the rescue workers who are still visiting his grandson at Elmhurst Hospital, where Gabriel Larson's mother and father are keeping a vigil by the boy's side.

"Of course, we here in Utah witnessed powerfully how New York reacts to tragedy on 9/11," Nicholson said, referring to the terrorism attacks more than a decade ago. "Now we're seeing it again."

Muslims Meet Restaurant Owner: Change His Mind through Dialogue -- by Jessica Sinichak

After the controversial sign he posted in front of Domenico's Ristorante in Cranberry caused a stir in the community (including on the Cranberry Patch site), owner Michael Pollice has had a change of heart.

"I like to push stuff as far as it can go," he said. "I will never do that again, because it hurts people."

Pollice, who is known in the community for his thought-provoking—and sometimes controversial—signs, erected a sign last week that said "Flying Remote Control Airplanes into Muslim People at the Mall is My Thing."

The sign, which received local—and even national—media coverage ignited a firestorm of responses that ranged from support of Pollice's message—which he said was a joke—to defense of First Amendment rights to downright outrage and disgust.

In just a few days time, Cranberry Patch received close 100 responses from readers giving their opinion on the issue. Many threatened to boycott the restaurant.

According to Pollice—who said business at the restaurant actually increased—the responses at first inspired him to poke back (which he did in the comment section of the Cranberry Patch article) and to push the envelope even further. By Saturday, a new sign he posted in front of the restaurant read, "If This Sign Offends You, Call a Dead Soldier's Parents to Complain."

Then a phone call changed his mind.

Pollice said Asim Kokan, a board member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, asked him Wednesday for a face-to-face get together to talk about the sign.

Pollice agreed to the meeting, which also was attended by Kazim Reza, a member of the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh and a local realtor, Scott Rudolph, a pastor with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Franklin Park, and Donna McNamara, an active member with the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition.

Pollice said he had never before spent time with Muslims, and doing so changed his attitude. After explaining he thought of the sign as a joke, he and the visitors got along fine.

"Those guys were great," he said. "They could have been jerks to me."

Pollice added he apologized numerous times to the group—and even offered to hold a fundraiser at the restaurant to benefit a new mosque for the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh. The association currently rents a space in Wexford.

"I think it was good thing for me," Pollice said of the meeting. "I'm better for the experience."

Unsure at first of what to expect, Reza said he also was pleasantly surprised at the meeting.

"He was very calm and very apologetic for hurting the feelings of Muslims and others," he said of Pollice.

The McCandless resident—who moved from India to the United States in 1954 to attend college—said the group learned about the Domenico's sign from an email a woman originally sent to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh that was forwarded to other mosques around the area.

"She felt is was very, very inappropriate," Reza said of the emailer. "She felt hurt. She felt it was totally uncalled for."

Part of CAIR's mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, which is why the group—which meets up for North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition events— scheduled the meeting with Pollice. Reza also invited anyone with an interest in learning more about Islam to attend prayers at MAP's mosque in Wexford.

"We do not stop anybody. Anybody can come," he said. "You only have to follow the basic disciplines of the mosque."

As for Pollice, he said the incident wouldn't deter him from posting quirky signs in the future. By Thursday, he had a new sign up that he said shouldn't offend anyone—except maybe marine life. It reads, "Dolphins are Just Sharks Who Watch Glee."


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