DADE CITY — What happened the night Anthony Makowski died?
That was the main question Thursday in the second day of a wrongful-death suit against the Land O'Lakes McDonald's franchisee and the owners of the U.S. 41 shopping center where the 21-year-old died in a violent altercation April 2005. Makowski's parents are seeking damages.
Investigators determined Makowski was the aggressor in his fatal brawl with Martin Robles-Taylor, who was ahead of him in the drive-through that night. Their fight ended when Robles-Taylor grabbed Makowski by the throat and held him in a choke hold for several minutes.
But in testimony presented Thursday, witnesses painted Robles-Taylor as the instigator.
In a statement recorded last year, McDonald's employee Theresa Higgins, who was working the night of the fight, said Robles-Taylor appeared drunk when he came through the drive-through around 4 a.m. on April 24, 2005.
"He just didn't seem right to me," she said.
After Robles-Taylor got his food, she said, he approached Makowski's vehicle with a silver flashlight in hand. Makowski pulled his own flashlight out from under the seat, Higgins said, but didn't make any threatening gestures with it or get out of the car.
Suspicious, Higgins said she kept an eye on the two vehicles as she went about her work.
Later, she saw Robles-Taylor and his passenger, Samuel Wenzel Jr., get out of their vehicle and approach Makowski and Rick Hoadley, who were inside Hoadley's truck.
Robles-Taylor pushed Makowski three or four times before Makowski swung at him, she said. Her view of the rest of the fight was blocked.
Hoadley, Makowski's best friend since middle school, told the jury the two men went fishing that day, then later met up at a friend's house to play pool and watch television.
Yes, he drank that night — seven or eight beers over the course of seven or so hours. Anthony was drinking too, but Hoadley told the jury he didn't keep count of how much his friend drank.
"It looked like he was just casually drinking," Hoadley said. Makowski's mood was "happy, goofy" when they left around 4 a.m. for McDonald's.
The drive-through was backed up. After sitting in line for several minutes, Makowski "tooted" the horn, Hoadley said. They were hungry.
Hoadley and Makowski ignored Robles-Taylor when he approached with the flashlight. The men got their food, and as they were driving off, Hoadley said Wenzel and Robles-Taylor threw trash at his truck.
Hoadley stopped to inspect his vehicle, not to fight, he insisted Thursday.
"As I got out, they were right behind us," he said. "(Wenzel) was right in my face when I opened the door."
Hoadley said he was occupied with Wenzel as Robles-Taylor and Makowski wrestled. He didn't see who instigated the fight.
Hoadley tried to intervene, but Wenzel threatened him, he said.
Robles-Taylor asked Hoadley if Makowski would hit him if he let him go. The cops came. Hoadley said he was put in the back of a squad car.
"It didn't even cross my mind that (Makowski) could be in life threatening danger," Hoadley said.
When paramedics arrived, Makowski lay unconscious. He later died at a hospital.
Makowski's parents are suing Bob Brickman and B & B Cash Grocery Stores Inc. Their suit alleges that the 24-hour drive-through should have been staffed with security to keep patrons safe.
The trial is expected to continue through next week.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.