He is either the weakest part of the traffic homicide case, or the strongest.
For 11 years, a man named Mark Allen has haunted the Florida Highway Patrol's 1998 investigation into a 21-year-old Indian Shores man's death along an interstate highway.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 13, 1998, the 42-year-old trucker was hauling nitrogen to a seafood store on N Dale Mabry Highway when he saw two men struggling on the side of Interstate 275. He called *FHP, but kept driving because he was hauling hazardous materials.
He made the delivery, then got back on the interstate heading east and passed what had now become a crash scene.
What happened after that depends on whom you talk to.
Last Monday, FHP released a new report examining how its personnel handled the 11-year-old case. The report found several flaws, but left unresolved the dispute about Allen's veracity.
Kevin McGinley's parents are convinced FHP flubbed the investigation, and say Allen was an objective eyewitness, simply passing by, who saw their son being deliberately pushed in front of an oncoming truck.
That is the crux of their crusade: that someone threw their son into the path of a United Parcel Service semitrailer truck, then left him for dead, and FHP ignored evidence of this.
But FHP lead investigator Cpl. Dennis Jetton has said he spoke to Allen by phone and interviewed him in person two months after the crash, and the man never said anything about seeing anyone pushed.
Jetton said Allen spoke only of seeing two men fighting near the Howard-Armenia on-ramp and a taxi pulling up. Then he went on his way, leaving the interstate before the fatal crash happened.
The contradiction may never be resolved. Allen died in 2002 of cocaine toxicity. That overdose is one of many factors that tip the scales one way or the other when weighing Allen's credibility.
• Four people backed Allen's story, his wife among them. All of them told McGinley family investigators he called them after the crash and said he'd seen a man pushed into oncoming traffic.
FHP only interviewed one of the four, Allen's wife, Debra.
• FHP Lt. Stephen Mauriello interviewed Debra Allen in 2001, and she repeatedly confirmed her husband's account.
• In 2003, as the McGinleys conducted their own investigation, Debra Allen told their lawyers she went with Mark Allen in 1998 to meet Jetton for an interview, and heard him say he saw Kevin pushed to his death.
She has been unwavering about that ever since. In 2004, she took a polygraph about it at the McGinleys' request. She passed.
• Jetton's notes from that meeting don't mention her, and he dates it several weeks later than when she said it took place.
FHP recently asked Jetton about this for their report. He said she wasn't there and Allen didn't say he saw anyone pushed.
• In 2001, Mauriello and Hillsborough County State Attorney investigator Richard Hurd had a lengthy interview with Mark Allen. He told them he saw McGinley shoved to his death.
Asked why he didn't tell Jetton this in 1998, Allen said he thought he did. If he didn't, perhaps it was "because it hasn't got into my head yet that I had seen someone get killed."
• Allen said he took prescription drugs including hydrocodone, and had an injury that did "15 to 20 percent damage to my head'' and affected his memory.
• The State Attorney's Office explored allegations that the McGinleys tried to bribe Allen, citing his wife as their source.
Allen denied this. So did his wife.
So did the McGinleys.
• Mauriello didn't tape his interview with Allen's wife, and his notes from their 2001 conversation contain a contradiction.
His typed notes show she said an investigator for the McGinleys told Allen they wanted to offer him a reward, but he turned it down as "death monies."
But Mauriello also wrote down her answers on a sheet of questions he prepared in advance. Question: "Did he discuss compensation for this new statement?" Answer: "No."
Asked about this for FHP's recent review, Mauriello said he wrote her answers in a separate notepad, and later summarized them, albeit incorrectly, on the page of questions. The differences were an "unintentional oversight,'' and his notepad was the "most accurate.''
The McGinleys have made extensive requests over the last 11 years for every public document on their son's case, including handwritten notes, but they have never been provided with any such notebook.
• In 2001, Mauriello and Hurd went before a Hillsborough State Attorney's homicide committee and cited Allen's "change" in testimony. A memo by Mauriello says they raised the matter of whether this change "was collaborated by others."
Hugh McGinley believes this was designed to dissuade prosecutors from pursuing criminal charges for his son's murder.
The State Attorney's Office has declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Last year the McGinleys sued the FHP and the State Attorney's Office, claiming they failed to properly investigate how their son died.
The latest FHP report doesn't resolve questions about Mark Allen. Still, Hugh McGinley said he remains convinced the trucker saw Kevin being pushed.
"He was able to recall it every time he was asked about it, with the notable exception of when he talked about it to Dennis Jetton."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.