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His brother had been slain in 1983 over a college jacket. On Friday, this Baltimore MTA driver was gunned down.

Frankye Duckett (right), a 49-year-old MTA MobilityLink bus driver who was gunned down on duty in Baltimore Friday night, is pictured with his good friend Devin Boyd. (Photo courtesy of Devin Boyd.)
Frankye Duckett (right), a 49-year-old MTA MobilityLink bus driver who was gunned down on duty in Baltimore Friday night, is pictured with his good friend Devin Boyd. (Photo courtesy of Devin Boyd.)

Frankye Duckett had just purchased a place in Pennsylvania, a respite from the fast pace of his beloved hometown for when he retired in a few years.

But the 49-year-old commuted to Baltimore every day to shuttle disabled people around the city for the Maryland Transit Administration’s MobilityLink Program. It was just his latest job centered on service.

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Friends and family said his roots run deep in West Baltimore, where he grew up a lovable prankster and a prolific basketball player. He’d go on to marry, twice, and to father children and grandchildren. His work included stints as a city schools police officer and as a manager of a facility for adults with disabilities.

Duckett was gunned down Friday evening while on duty driving a MobilityLink van in what Baltimore police described as a targeted attack. He died later at a hospital. Homicide detectives are investigating, and the gunman remains at large. Those who loved Duckett have been left to wonder how he could have met this fate.

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“What do you have to try to do to avoid this type of thing? He was a mobility bus driver, working a 9-5, not threatening,” said Roddey Keith Sanders, 51. He told The Baltimore Sun Duckett had been his best friend since childhood. “You always hear people say this, but I can’t believe this happened to him… somebody that’s never been in trouble, never been a tough guy who wanted to start trouble,” Sanders said. “Just a friendly, joking guy.”

Duckett grew up around the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore as the youngest of five siblings, and spent much of his life trying to avoid this outcome. His family had been touched by tragedy before.

His older brother was victim of one of Baltimore’s notorious murders when Duckett was just a boy. DeWitt Duckett, a ninth-grader at Harlem Park Junior High School, was shot in his neck inside the school on Nov. 18, 1983, over a Georgetown University basketball jacket. The “Harlem Park Three” have been exonerated and the person authorities believe responsible is dead.

But Duckett’s sister, Denise Duckett-Richardson, 54, said the four remaining siblings vowed never to put their mother through the same pain. And Frankye, the youngest, perhaps exemplified it best. He never drank or did drugs, she said. His only vices were basketball and laughter.

“I’ve been through this 37, almost 38 years ago when I lost my brother, and now I’m going through this again, losing my brother to the senseless streets,” Duckett-Richardson said. “It’s always the good ones.”

Sanders said he met Duckett at Harlem Park Junior High. They became best friends and two more pals made up an inseparable foursome. Come high school, Duckett and Sanders went on to Walbrook High School, which has since closed. That’s where Duckett became a popular athlete.

On the court, Duckett carved out a reputation as a tenacious defender and an opportunistic shooting guard, said Devin Boyd, 50, a teammate at Walbrook. Boyd was an upperclassman and Duckett was one of just three sophomores on the team. Two have now died from murder. The third succumbed to a health condition, Boyd said.

“Our coach would call a play for me on offense to get a shot. If it goes through Frankye’s hands, you don’t know if it’s coming back or what because he’d just forget about the play and shoot it,” Boyd said. “He always said ‘I was open.’ That was his line.”

Duckett continued to play pickup games in Baltimore with older guys. On Facebook, he followed the pages of basketball icons Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. He passed along his love for the game to his children, too.

He had four kids himself and his second wife, a veteran corrections officer, had four, too, Duckett-Richardson said. There were about a dozen grandchildren between them. Together, they were a happy family. The couple were planning on retiring together at the home they’d purchased about a year ago in Pennsylvania. They dreamed of starting a business.

At work, he cared most about his customers, who he served until his final moments, said Duckett-Richardson, who also drives for MTA’s MobilityLink. After Duckett walked his last customer to the door, he called his sister. Something seemed wrong. He told her that an altercation was about to happen, and assured he’d call back.

But the next call came from another source, she said. They told her he’d been shot dead in the driver’s seat.

“We are deeply saddened by another tragic loss this evening as one of our First Transit Mobility service operators was killed on the job,” administrator Kevin Quinn said in a statement over the weekend. “The safety of our employees and our riders is MDOT MTA’s highest priority. Violence against transit operators needs to stop immediately. MDOT MTA is grateful for our operators’ dedication in transporting essential workers to critical jobs and in this case, transporting our most vulnerable customers to essential services during the pandemic each and every day. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in this most difficult time.”

Baltimore police encourage anyone with information about Duckett’s death to call homicide detectives at 410-396-2100 or, if they wish to leave an anonymous tip, dial 1-866-7LOCKUP for Metro Crime Stoppers.

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