THE family of a taxi driver who died a month after a vicious attack by a drunken passenger paid tribute last night to “a giant of a man who was loved by everyone”.
Mohammed Zabir, 56, was hit on the head with a bottle and, when he got out of his car, he was drop-kicked in the chest and booted in the head.
The father-of-six was saved from a further attack by residents of Middleton-St- George, near Darlington, who intervened after hearing noises at 2.30am.
Mr Zabir was found in a pool of blood in a muddy ditch.
Some of the villagers gave him first-aid and stayed with him until an ambulance arrived.
A month later, after hospital treatment for ongoing concussion and chest pains, he died of a heart attack – but doctors could not link it to the assault.
Police said the case was a graphic and tragic illustration of how alcohol can change the behaviour of a person who is usually mild-mannered and polite.
Last night, after seeing his teenage assailant locked up for three years, Mr Zabir’s nephew, Javid Khazir, also a cabbie from Middlesbrough, said: “The circumstances in which we lost him have absolutely devastated the family.
Words cannot describe the loss and the grief we all still feel. It has been three months since his passing, and it still hurts every single day.”
Promising sportsman Axel Williamson, of Kitching Grove, Darlington, pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm at Teesside Crown Court.
The court heard that Williamson had been out celebrating his 18th birthday in Yarm before taking a taxi home with three friends.
He had downed “no less than 20 drinks” and had no recollection of what happened, but in a second interview with police he told of his regret.
Witnesses said the teenage college student also shouted foul racial abuse at Mr Zabir after attacking him in his taxi in the early hours of July 9.
Defence barrister Jonathan Walker told Judge George Moorhouse that Williamson was a “an accomplished athlete” who was not used to drinking.
Mr Walker said he had been “egged on” by friends who plied him with shots in an eight-hour drinking session.
“When he sobered up, the true horror dawned on him, and it changed a month later when he learned of the sad demise of Mr Zabir,” he added.
“His very first day as an adult was spent in a police cell having been arrested, nearnaked, running around the fields of Middleton-St-George in drunken oblivion.
“He, like his family, holds out a great level of apology to the family and would all wish me to ventilate their expression of real sorrow for the loss.”
After the case, Mr Khazir, 38, said: “No sentence is ever going to bring Mr Zabir back, and we take no joy from a young man getting locked up.
“He seems to be from a good family and they will be going through a lot at this time, too.”
Nine hundred mourners attended a mosque in Middlesbrough for a funeral service which was held within hours of Mr Zabir’s death.
An hour-long programme on local radio was also held in memory of the popular community figure – who also owned a pizza shop in Darlington.
“He was a very proud individual,” said Mr Khazir. “He was loving and caring. He had become a grandad for the first time just a month or two before the incident, and he doted on his grandkids.”
Mr Khazir paid tribute to the hospital staff and police in Darlington and praised the brave villagers who came to his stricken uncle’s aid.
“In the days that followed, he just could not find the energy.
Otherwise he would have just sprung back up – this really did just break him,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Jim Cunningham, of Darlington CID, said: “Tragically in this case, he seems to be one of those people who drink totally disagrees with and makes someone a Jekyll and Hyde character.”