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Taxi driver forgives man for hateful attack

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    Forgiveness from the cab driver he attacked and called an "Iraqi terrorist" spared a young man from a longer jail sentence Friday, when members of Seattle's Sikh community spoke about the hatred they've endured since 9/11.

    Luis Arturo Vazquez, a 21-year-old Kent man, was sentenced to nine months in work release and 240 hours of community service for his hateful words and drunken assault in November against Sukhvir Singh.

    Men in brightly colored turbans crowded into King County Superior Court, asking for a sentence that sent a strong message but didn't ruin Vazquez's life.

    "The Sikhs in this community have contributed a lot, and it's very hurtful when people attack us based on our looks," said Hardeep Singh Rekhi. "Hate is one of the most divisive and intolerable emotions that we can have."

    Gurdev Singh Mann said 9/11 left the Sikh community as hurt as everyone else; he couldn't understand how some could equate Sikhs with terrorists, or even "where they find that word."

    There have been "a number of such incidents ... but nothing so egregious" as what Singh endured at the hands of Vazquez, Jasmit Singh Kochhar said.

    Singh himself -- who was left with a concussion, cuts on his face, bite marks on his scalp and other injuries -- told Judge Monica Benton that "if someone made a mistake, they should learn a lesson from it."

    Vazquez was so drunk that he'd been denied entrance to the Nov. 24 Apple Cup football game at Husky Stadium. Police officers spotted Singh's cab and asked him to give the man a ride home, according to court documents.

    He attacked Singh as they headed south on Interstate 5, causing Singh to pull over. Police say Vazquez punched and bit Singh, pulling out tufts of his hair as he threatened him and called him a terrorist.

    Vazquez, who apparently doesn't remember what he did, said he was ashamed and embarrassed. He said he had "no clue" why he did it and apologized for making Singh feel like he has to constantly look over his shoulder.

    "I'm really, really sorry -- sorry about what I put you through," Vazquez, a construction worker dressed in a sweater vest and tie, told Singh. "I can only imagine if it happened to me or one of my family members."

    Vazquez pleaded guilty last month to charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and a hate crime. His attorney, Greg Girard, called him a responsible man who realizes alcohol played a big role in his actions; he is now in treatment.

    Deputy Prosecutor Mike Hogan asked for a two-year jail term, though he noted that Singh "has been forgiving of the attack from the beginning."

    He said the attack endangered everyone else on the freeway because Vazquez suddenly assaulted Singh from behind, causing the driver "to flee his taxicab to try to save his life."

    Benton, the judge, said Vazquez should be given leniency in the same way that Singh has given forgiveness, adding that the attack only reiterated that the community needs to "talk about and address our racial differences."

    "When one drinks, as you did, Mr. Vazquez, those deep-seated fears arise and those prejudices surface," she said. "It is unfortunate, truly, that you do not recall this event, because he will never forget it."

    -Reporter Tracy Johnson can be reached at 206-467-5942 or [email protected].

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