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Civil trial begins in 2005 death of man outside McDonald's in Land O'Lakes

DADE CITY — Anthony Makowski died on April 24, 2005, after an early-morning brawl in a McDonald's parking lot in Land O'Lakes. The 21-year-old got into an argument with another patron in the drive-through lane and that erupted into a violent blur of body slams and punches.

Now, as Makowski's parents come to court to pursue justice for their son's death, one person is not here: Martin Robles-Taylor, the other man involved in the fatal fight.

Robles-Taylor was investigated by the authorities, who ruled Makowski's death an "excusable homicide." The 25-year-old, they said, had no intent to kill Makowski when he put him in an extended choke hold.

Makowski's parents, never satisfied with that outcome, sued the owners of the McDonald's restaurant and the shopping center where it sits on U.S. 41, alleging negligent security at the 24-hour drive-through.

The wrongful-death suit against McDonald's operator Brickman Management Co. and shopping center owner B&B Cash Grocery Stores Inc. is under way this week.

Cathy and Wayne Makowski are seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

"Despite knowledge of prior criminal acts on or about the premises as well as in the vicinity of the McDonald's, both defendants provided no security services to either deter or prevent criminal acts such as what was experienced by Makowski," the lawsuit states.

But in court Monday morning, an attorney for Bob Brickman, who owns the McDonald's franchise, gave another characterization.

"We're here because Mr. Robles doesn't have money to pay," attorney Bryant Blevins said. "I think everybody knows that.

"The reason (these business owners) are sitting here is because Mr. Robles isn't a millionaire. Their client knows Mr. Robles caused their son's death. Where is he?"

Curt Obront, an attorney for the Makowskis, dismissed those remarks as "empty chair" and "deep pockets" kind of arguments, and called them "egregious."

Impatience in line

The fatal incident, which drew nationwide curiosity for its tragic peculiarity and which was documented on Web sites such as McMurders.com, started with four men waiting in line at the all-night drive-through. According to witnesses, honks were exchanged during the long wait, and so were profanities.

Makowski and friend Rick Hoadley, then 21, sat in a black 2000 Toyota pickup. Ahead of them were Robles-Taylor and Samuel Wenzel Jr., then 21, in a silver Honda SUV.

When Robles-Taylor paid and got his food, he pulled up and parked, documents say. Soon, Makowski and Hoadley pulled up beside them.

A grainy surveillance video of the altercation depicts what came next. Authorities said it shows Makowski, a 6-4, 270-pound former high school football player, charging Robles-Taylor, body-slamming him at least once and battering him on the ground. That's when Robles-Taylor, who had been through basic training in the Army, managed to put Makowski in a choke hold.

While lamenting that no one pulled Robles-Taylor off Makowski, prosecutors decided a couple of years ago that the video evidence didn't support criminal charges.

The civil case is moving at a slow, contentious pace. The two sides argued 57 pretrial motions before Circuit Judge Susan Gardner in a marathon hearing last week.

On Monday morning, they quibbled over tables in the courtroom and which lines from witness depositions to exclude.

Jury selection began Monday afternoon. The trial is expected to last more than a week.

Civil trial begins in 2005 death of man outside McDonald's in Land O'Lakes 06/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 15, 2009 9:07pm]
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