SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A female cab driver issued a stirring plea Thursday, saying she was raped and nearly beaten to death on the job.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively, Melissa Melio filed a lawsuit Thursday against a hospital that asked her to pick up a patient — but allegedly did not tell her the patient was a registered sex offender.
“He grabbed the front seat and punched me in the face,” Melio said.
Melio’s demeanor is often soft-spoken, but it does not mask the horror of her ordeal.
“He punched me in the face and knocked my tooth out,” she said.
While on the job driving a taxi on Dec. 1 of last year, she was raped and nearly killed by a passenger she picked up at the John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson.
“He was in the back seat, but still on top of me, reaching over and strangling me until I became unconscious,” Melio said.
The 35-year-old cabbie had no idea her passenger was a violent registered sex offender. Francis Barrios was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl.
In December, Barrios, who is homeless, was picked up by an ambulance after acting erratically. One hospital allegedly refused him — citing children in the waiting room — so the ambulance brought Barrios to Mather Hospital.
Once ready to discharge him, Mather Memorial staff called a cab.
“They handed me $28,” Melio said.
But Melio said the hospital gave her no warning. What followed was a relentless beating while she drove – until she crashed.
“That’s when he started strangling me,” she said. “I grabbed the microphone to call for help, and he ripped the plug out of the radio and showed it to me.”
Melio was then raped repeatedly.
“She could barely speak from being strangled,” said Melio’s husband, Salvatore Melio. “It was pretty horrific.”
The Melios are speaking out with a purpose.
“When they called for the cab, they could have told them to send a male,” Melissa Melio said. “They could have informed me that he was dangerous.”
If staff at the hospital did not know Barrios was a registered sexual predator, attorney Mitch Birzon said they should have.
“It would have taken them literally 10 seconds to check on the state and the federal database as to whether or not he was a registered sex offender,” Birzon said. “They didn’t, and if they did, they blew it.”
Mather Hospital declined comment because the case is now a legal matter. Birzon said it was like summoning a woman into a shark tank.
“(To) put him in a locked vehicle with a female, OK – I hold the hospital entirely responsible here,” Birzon said.
If a passing motorist had not summoned police, Melio has little doubt her life would have ended in the attack. But now, she is on a mission.
“I want to make it safer for women taxi drivers; for women in just in the waiting room; children,” Melio said.
“A simple internet search could have prevented all of this,” added Salvatore Melio.
The couple said the registry protects people from predators, but only if it is checked.
Barrios pleaded guilty to the rape and was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison.