DADE CITY — Four years ago, Anthony Makowski died in a violent altercation with another man in the parking lot of the only 24-hour fast food restaurant in the Land O'Lakes area.
The McDonald's on U.S. 41 attracted the night owls. Attorney Curt Obront offered a description Wednesday in a Pasco County courtroom: "This parking lot on weekends became basically like a bar on wheels."
Obront is representing Cathy and Wayne Makowski, who sued McDonald's operator Brickman Management Co. and shopping center owner B&B Cash Grocery Stores Inc, alleging negligent security at the restaurant.
"This case involves a senseless, preventable tragedy," Obront told the jury during opening arguments in a civil trial.
He described the parking lot as a site of alcohol-fueled crime, citing more than 700 emergency 911 calls between 2001 and 2005 concerning incidents in the area.
Between midnight and 5 a.m., he said, were like the "witching hour."
"It was a dangerous situation,'' Obront said. "It was not a question of if something like this would happen, it was a question of when."
Obront argued a security guard's presence could have prevented the altercation that took Makowski's life on April 24, 2005.
Makowski, 21, died about 4:30 a.m. after getting into a fight with Martin Robles-Taylor.
Makowski, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound former high school football player, allegedly charged Robles-Taylor, body-slamming him at least once and battering him on the ground. Robles-Taylor, who had been through basic training in the Army, managed to put Makowski in a choke hold that killed him.
Prosecutors decided a couple of years ago that the video evidence didn't support criminal charges against Robles-Taylor.
In his opening arguments Wednesday, defense attorney Bryant Blevins said testimony would prove the McDonald's was not a hotbed for drunken mayhem and the plaintiff had mischaracterized the reports of rampant crime in the area.
Obront's claim that hundreds of 911 calls had stemmed from crimes in the McDonald's area were inaccurate, Blevins said. The incidents may have occurred miles away, but were reported from drivers who had pulled over by the restaurant.
"You have to be able to compare apples to apples," he said.
He told the jury McDonald's employees would say they called authorities as soon as the physical altercation between Makowski and Robles-Taylor began.
Blevins also stressed that Makowski and the other men involved had been drinking before the altercation, which was not the company owner's fault. Makowski's friend Rick Hoadley, then 21, was with him; Robles-Taylor was accompanied by Samuel Wenzel Jr., then 21.
"It sounds like four intoxicated men decided they were going to have an altercation," he said. "One was going to pump their chests up bigger than the other."
The trial hit a snag Tuesday when lawyers on the plaintiff's side uncovered unreported facts about three of the jurors, including old arrests.
The revelation prompted Circuit Judge Susan Gardner to dismiss the entire group, and attorneys picked a new jury Tuesday afternoon.
The trial is expected to last through next week.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.