Jump Street

Once ruled a suicide, Phoenix finance chief Kevin Keogh's leap to his death on a busy thoroughfare is a true medical mystery

It's been two years since the city of Phoenix's chief financial officer jumped to his death from atop his moving Mercedes on East Camelback Road.

To this day, mention of 55-year-old Kevin Keogh's highly publicized leap on the afternoon of December 8, 2004, raises the question, "What could that poor guy have been thinking?"

Now, with access to Keogh's medical records, plus interviews with medical experts and with those who knew him best, much more can finally be said about the man — and about his awful death.

But a definitive answer about why Keogh jumped is as elusive now as it was after a Maricopa County medical examiner ruled initially that he had committed suicide.

"Like some real mysteries, Mr. Keogh's case has elements destined to remain unanswerable," says the county's former chief medical examiner Dr. Philip Keen.

That became evident last August 12 when Keen changed Keogh's death certificate to read "undetermined" instead of suicide.

"We did call it a suicide at first," Dr. Keen tells New Times, "because the overt action of putting your vehicle into cruise-control, getting up on a car roof and jumping off is kind of compelling. But after we collected more information, it became clear that much more was going on here than we'd originally thought."

Suicide, by definition, has to be intentional, and that's the rub.

Keen and others who have looked hard at the case, including famed New York pathologist Michael Baden, now agree that Kevin Keogh probably didn't know what he was doing — literally — when he jumped.

One new piece of information to which Dr. Keen was referring was a long-delayed test result proving that Keogh's brain had been damaged before he died.

Unfortunately, Dr. Diane Karluk of the Medical Examiner's Office couldn't pinpoint the cause of Keogh's brain injury, or say exactly how it had affected him.

But she wrote in a November 2005 report that her findings were "consistent with his symptoms being due to an underlying disease process."

Dr. Baden, host of HBO's Autopsyseries and chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police, tells New Times that "calling this an undetermined manner of death is definitely more reasonable under the known circumstances than calling it suicide. But one thing does seem certain: If this man really wanted to have committed suicide, he wouldn't have chosen this bizarre way to do it."

That resonates with those closest to Keogh, who insist how improbable it was that this most private man knowingly killed himself in such a grotesquely public way, and at the same time put others in harm's way by abandoning his moving car on a busy street.

"The Kevin I knew was not the guy who jumped off that Mercedes," says Phoenix city treasurer and deputy finance director Barbara Lang, a longtime colleague and dear friend of Keogh's. "He was not a man who ever, ever would have called attention to himself."

Another point: Though leaping from a car traveling at about 40 miles per hour isn't advisable, Keogh couldn't have known that he would careen headfirst into an orange tree across a sidewalk on the side of Camelback Road and die instantly.

The lay of the land there suggests he should have had much better odds of at least escaping with his life.

With Dr. Keen's recent change to the death certificate, Keogh's widow may yet become eligible for more than $300,000 in CIGNA life-insurance benefits previously denied her.

But Karlene Keogh — who owns her own thriving insurance firm, is president of the Phoenix Rotary 100 club and lives comfortably in east Phoenix — says she didn't contest the original suicide ruling with an eye on possible financial gain.

"I didn't know what had happened to Kevin," she says, "but it wasn't suicide. That's just inconceivable, impossible. Kevin was all about appearances, setting examples, doing the right thing. The way he died is never the way he would have wanted to die — so public and so crazy. That's why I decided to fight for his name."


It was just after 2 p.m. on December 8, 2004, a sunny day in the Valley with the temperature about 70 degrees.

Scottsdale resident Karl Schumacher was driving westbound on Camelback Road, just west of 68th Street.

To his astonishment, he saw a man hoist himself out of the driver's window of a black Mercedes eastbound on the other side of the intersection.

Schumacher thought for a moment it was a prank.

He saw the man steady himself on top of the car by extending his arms outward.

When Schumacher was about even with the Mercedes, the man jumped off toward the passenger side. Through his rearview mirror, Schumacher watched him tumble over the curb into an orange tree.

Schumacher called 911 as he made a U-turn, parked, and ran over to the man, who lay motionless next to the tree, surrounded by fallen oranges.

The man was bleeding from a deep wound to his forehead, and it was obvious to everyone gathering around him that he was dead.

Another Scottsdale resident, Robert Cuevas, had been driving behind the Mercedes, at a speed he later estimated at 35 to 40 mph.

After also observing the man jump, Cuevas had seen the vacated Mercedes ram into the rear of a Dodge Neon stopped at the light at 68th Street and Camelback.

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