A New York City livery cab driver has gone to authorities to give his account of driving a Brooklyn woman accused of killing and dismembering her neighbor to Long Island, where the victim's body parts were later found, and helping transport a heavy suitcase.
Fernando Mateo, a spokesman for the livery cabs union, said at a news conference Friday that the driver didn't know that his longtime customer, 42-year-old Leah Cuevas, was accused of the gruesome killing until he saw news reports of her arrest on TV Thursday.
According to Mateo, the driver, identified only as Ernesto, got a call from Cuevas the night of the alleged killing.
"She came down with a suitcase wrapped in a heavy-duty plastic bag," said Mateo. "He didn't notice anything suspicious, he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, only that she wanted to take the suitcase to Brentwood, Long Island."
Together, they made the hour-long trip starting from the Brownsville apartment building where Cuevas and Chinelle Latoya Thompson Browne both lived. Authorities say that's where Cuevas killed and dismembered the 28-year-old mother of four after the two had an argument over rent and utilities.
Erneto recalled that the suitcase was "slippery" and that it "'slipped out of our hands, but it took both of us to be able to lift it and put it in the trunk,'" according to Mateo.
"He took her to Brentwood, where he helped her unload the bag, put it on the handtruck, and he saw she left it behind a home," Mateo said.
Browne's dismembered torso was discovered in a wooded lot near the Fire Island ferry terminal in Bay Shore on July 9, and her severed legs were found nearby.
Days later, the woman's arms were found in separate yards in Hempstead, about 25 miles west of Bay Shore, and her severed head was discovered at another home in the village on July 17, the prosecutor said.
After the driver saw Cuevas in TV news reports, he went to police. He's working with authorities in their investigation, including providing phone reports to back up his story, according to Mateo.
The driver did not want to come forward publicly out of fear of retaliation, but wants to help find justice for Browne's grieving family, Mateo said.
An autopsy determined that Browne died of "homicidal violence," including multiple stabbing and incise wounds. Cuevas has been charged with second-degree murder.
Browne had moved to New York about a year ago and worked in a Manhattan department store, according to her husband Dale Browne. He planned to move to New York with their four children after he got his paperwork completed.