Cabbie's lawyer: Shots fired in fear

A taxi driver was "frightened out of his wits" when he shot and fatally injured another cabdriver in a busy downtown intersection in December, the man's lawyer says.

Paramjit Dhaliwal thought Jasbir Bassi and several others were about to kill him when he began firing at Bassi, defense attorney Fred Leatherman said. Dhaliwal is to be arraigned this morning in King County Superior Court on a charge of first-degree murder in Bassi's slaying.

"He believes he was justified in doing what he did, and I do, too," said Leatherman. "I think the facts will establish that he used reasonable force to defend his life."

Homicide Detective Eugenio Ramirez declined to comment yesterday, saying it wasn't appropriate to discuss a case pending prosecution. King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Roger Davidheiser couldn't be reached.

Dhaliwal fled the area immediately after the Dec. 28 shooting. He turned himself in to Seattle police Monday, almost three months after prosecutors issued an arrest warrant.

Dhaliwal and Bassi were drivers and part-owners in Farwest, and colleagues said they were in rival camps within the company. Dhaliwal was chairman of the company's internal-grievance committee.

The shooting occurred in the afternoon at the busy intersection of Westlake Avenue and Stewart Street near the Westin Hotel.

Witnesses told police Bassi walked up to Dhaliwal's cab on Westlake and banged on the window. Dhaliwal fired at least one shot at Bassi from inside his car, then got out and continued firing at him, witnesses said. Then he jumped back into his vehicle and drove off.

Police found Dhaliwal's cab in the Central Area hours after the shooting but couldn't find him.

Leatherman said he doesn't know where his client has been and declined to comment on when and how Dhaliwal contacted him. But he acknowledged he has been working on the case since January.

Prosecutors allege the two men were in a dispute over the treatment of some drivers who had supported previous company leadership, and Bassi had been trying to speak to Dhaliwal about the situation when he was shot. Bassi had been riding in a car with four others before he approached Dhaliwal, the charging documents say.

Leatherman said the men had followed Dhaliwal from the airport and had tried to cut off his car at least once.

His client's job with the grievance committee brought lots of turmoil, Leatherman said.

Leatherman said he accompanied Dhaliwal on Monday when he went to the Public Safety Building to talk to police. Security guards turned the pair away when they tried to enter on Fourth Avenue, telling them instead to enter on Third, he said.

"Here we were trying to surrender on a first-degree warrant, and we couldn't get in the building," said Leatherman.