IOWA CITY – As Ricky Lillie was getting off work every morning from driving cab, he’d send a “good morning” text message to his mother, Peggy Armstrong.
On Wednesday morning, that text message never came.
“I didn’t get one,” said Armstrong, of New London. “I was kind of worried.”
Around 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, Armstrong learned why. Her son, a 46-year-old cabdriver for Yellow Cab of Iowa City, had been killed in Iowa City. On Wednesday night, the Iowa City Police Department announced Lillie’s death had been upgraded from a suspicious death investigation to a homicide investigation. His cause of death has not been disclosed; however, on Thursday police released an image of a person of interest in Lillie’s death.
Police said they were called to the 500 block of Ernest Street around 3:42 a.m. Wednesday for a report of a driver slumped over inside a Yellow Cab. Lillie was found inside the cab, which was parked near an apartment building behind the Alexis Park Inn.
Armstrong and Lillie’s father, Hubert Lillie, of Burlington, said their son had been driving cab since last August or September. He’s lived in Iowa City with his brother and nephew for the last two years or so, Armstrong said.
“He enjoyed driving a cab,” Armstrong said. “He’d get bored, so he’d go in 2-3 hours early.”
Roger Bradley, manager of Yellow Cab of Iowa City, said in a statement that the company has been rocked by Lillie’s death.
“Rick was an experienced driver who was friendly to his passengers, supportive of his coworkers and well-liked in our company,” the statement reads in part. “A nice, more genuine guy cannot be found. His loss under these circumstances has left a large void in our company that we are only beginning to address.”
Hubert Lillie said he and his son talked every day and Ricky would sometimes drive down to Burlington to see him. They talked about “everyday stuff,” Hubert said, but often the conversation turned to cab driving. Hubert drove a cab when he was younger, he said.
“That’s where his main interest laid, driving a cab,” Lillie said. “That’s something he enjoyed.”
Jim Downey, Lillie’s neighbor in Iowa City, said he would sometimes drive Lillie to the store or help him pick up furniture. Otherwise, he’d often see Lillie just sitting in front of his house, drinking a pop or coffee and smoking a cigarette.
“He couldn’t hurt anybody,” he said. “Piss poor thing what happened to him.”
Ricky didn’t have many other hobbies or interests, his father said. But Armstrong said her son liked to play bowling online and enjoyed chatting with the friends he met on those websites.
“He was a caring person,” she said. “He always liked to do things for everyone.”
Ricky also had a dog named Rocky who he was close with, Armstrong said.
“He’d always greet him at the door,” Armstrong said of Rocky.
Armstrong said she is “kind of numb” and still processing her son’s death. She said her son sometimes had to deal with people who would try to skip out on fares, but he never seemed concerned with his safety.
“They didn’t have to kill him,” she said.
Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said there did not appear to be any threat to the public at this time.
Information on Lillie’s funeral services will be posted on the Yellow Cab Facebook page, Bradley said.
Anyone with information on the death or who believes he or she might have been a witness is asked to call police at (319) 356-6800.
Police said Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers will offer a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. CrimeStoppers can be reached at (319) 358-8477.