Hours after the bizarre death last December of the City of Phoenix's chief financial officer, city officials blamed a brain parasite contracted in Mexico for his bizarre demise.
Now, nine months of extensive testing have eliminated the possibility that such a parasite caused Kevin Keogh, 55, to crawl out the window of his moving Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and onto its roof before jumping off the passenger side and hitting a tree, the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner tells me.
"The parasite was ruled out through gross autopsy, the x-rays that were done and the micro-slides that were done of tissues of the brain," says deputy medical examiner Dorothy O'Connell. "The parasite would have shown up in one of those three areas or more. The parasite didn't show up in any of them."
The lack of evidence of a brain parasite combined with police reports and my review of Keogh's daily calendar and other city records point to a pressure-cooker work environment in the upper echelons of Phoenix City Hall as the far more likely catalyst in Keogh's suicide.
The bizarre incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon, December 8, when the CFO's car was traveling east on Camelback Road at about 45 mph. Witnesses told Scottsdale police that Keogh, after crawling onto the roof of the Benz, extended his arms outward for a second or two and then leaped off. He hit the tree, and his body rolled along the edge of the thoroughfare. His driverless car continued down the road until it collided with another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Miraculously, nobody else was injured.
Daily newspaper accounts of the incident quoted city officials as saying Keogh's widow, Karlene, maintained that a parasite contracted during a 2002 trip to Mexico had affected Keogh's brain and other parts of his body.
According to a report in the Arizona Republic, City Manager Frank Fairbanks said Keogh's widow believed his apparent suicide was "related to the impacts of this disease on his central nervous system."
Talk about Montezuma's revenge; the parasite explanation triggered a flurry of national newspaper stories and accounts on the Internet about the dangers of contracting exotic diseases when traveling to Mexico.
But more important, the parasite excuse deflected attention from other possible factors in Keogh's death, including overwhelming job stress.
Now that the medical examiner has torpedoed this always-unlikely explanation, city officials and Keogh's widow are refusing to comment. Fairbanks, assistant city manger Sheryl Sculley, who was Keogh's supervisor, and Mayor Phil Gordon did not return my telephone calls.
Said Val Weaver, who identified herself as Karlene Keogh's friend, "We are not talking to reporters. Karlene is still grieving her husband and does not wish to speak at this time."
There are many mysterious circumstances surrounding this incident.
For one, Karlene Keogh never mentioned a parasite as the possible cause of Keogh's bizarre behavior when she was interviewed immediately after his death by Scottsdale police. In fact, she told police that Keogh was "in good health and the only medications in the house were allergy medicines" and sleeping aids.
Police found an October 2004 prescription for five milligrams of Valium inside Keogh's car. The medical examiner's toxicology report revealed no drugs or alcohol in Keogh's body and only detected a normal amount of a cold medicine.
What his widow did tell police was that her husband of four years had been under severe stress at work.
"Karlene said Kevin [was] very depressed," according to a police report summarizing an interview with Karlene Keogh and two detectives. "She said he was trying to get help, and she felt that he was just exhausted from working too much.
"Over the past week he [had] been having trouble remembering things such as duties at his job and details surrounding his position. Over the past week he had trouble eating and sleeping, and approximately a month ago he stopped exercising and just talked of being tired and exhausted.
"He had never talked of suicide, he had never talked of hurting himself and never talked of hurting anyone else. The only thing [his widow] was able to articulate was his recent depression due to troubles at this job.
"His direct supervisor [Sculley] had not been treating him well and [on December 3] he had a very bad day at work and came home, and they talked about getting him help. [Karlene Keogh] stated he had gone to work on [December 7] but he was having difficulties at work and his boss had been on him so had left work early. She called in sick for him [December 8]."
Police also interviewed a family friend, Steve Pittendrigh, who related a similar story about the job stress Keogh was under: "Steve stated that Karlene told him that Kevin was acting paranoid, and the city was asking him to leave. . . . Karlene told Steve that Kevin [had] only been acting this way for [a] week."
Recently, I obtained a copy of Kevin Keogh's City Hall work calendar under the Arizona Public Records Law.
There is no doubt that Keogh, who was paid $164,000 a year, was under extreme pressure throughout 2004. The 28-year city official was in charge of 300 employees and responsible for overseeing the city's $1 billion budget.
Keogh's workload was heavy in normal times, but it intensified over the last couple of years because of the city's concerted and expensive effort to redevelop downtown Phoenix. Among his responsibilities, Keogh was developing the city's financial plans for more than $1 billion in high-profile projects.
In the year leading up to his death, he had overseen funding for the $600 million civic plaza expansion, of which the city is responsible for $300 million; the $500 million light-rail project; helped develop a plan for the downtown Arizona State University campus; and worked extensively on funding for the city's planned $350 million downtown convention center hotel.
All of these development projects were directed by Sculley, the assistant city manager who recently accepted a job as the city manager of San Antonio, Texas.
The downtown hotel had taken up large chunks of Keogh's time on a weekly basis for more than a year.
The hotel is a controversial project because it appears to violate a city ordinance enacted by Proposition 200 requiring the public to approve any expense beyond $3 million for a convention center or facility (see "Stick It To 'Em," July 8, 2004). Phoenix voters approved construction of the convention center in 2001, but have never had an opportunity to vote on the convention center hotel. In June 2004, the city council sidestepped Proposition 200 and voted to own and build the convention hotel.
It was Keogh's job to develop a financing package for the 1,000-room convention hotel. In December 2003 and again in June 2004, Keogh provided Sculley a feasibility analysis of the city's proposed sale of $300 million in bonds to build and operate the hotel.
But when Sculley presented the hotel proposal to the city council, it wasn't for a $300 million hotel. Sculley asked for, and the council approved, a $350 million project.
I can find no record from the city that it ever conducted a feasibility study for a $350 million convention center hotel before the council's approval. I asked acting finance director Bob Wingenroth if such an analysis has ever been done, and he assured me it has. I asked for a copy, but he has so far failed to provide it.
What all this means is, the city seemingly never conducted a proper financial analysis on a $350 million convention center hotel prior to the council's okay. Keogh must have been keenly aware of this significant discrepancy.
Eight days before Keogh's apparent suicide, his calendar shows that he had a late-afternoon meeting with the city's outside auditor, KPMG. The topic of the 2:30 p.m. November 30 get-together was listed as "Fraud Inquiries." I have no idea what was discussed at the meeting between Keogh and KPMG auditor Erma Ashworth, since Ashworth is another actor in this drama who didn't return phone calls.
But the timing of the meeting fits the timeline provided by Keogh's widow to police of the notable change in her husband's demeanor in the week leading up to his death.
Phoenix city auditor Randy Spenla tells me he believes the meeting was a routine discussion between Keogh and the city's outside auditor in which Keogh was to disclose if he were aware of any fraud. Nothing fraudulent has come to light in Keogh's former work world in the months after his death, Spenla says.
Keogh's calendar shows he had at least two more meetings related to the convention hotel on the workweek ending December 3. The following Monday, December 6, the final appointment on Keogh's calendar shows he had scheduled an hourlong meeting with Sculley in her office.
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On Tuesday, December 7, Keogh left work early because -- according to his wife -- Sculley had "been on him."
Keogh never returned to his Phoenix office again.
In the months following Keogh's dive off the top of his Mercedes, the city conducted an audit of the finance department and found no indication "that the city's current financial position was compromised in any way."
But this audit is little more than a self-serving examination. It's time for an independent inquiry -- completely outside the city's control -- of the events leading up to Keogh's strange demise. Because something other than a parasite gotten from a bad taco in Mexico caused Kevin Keogh to end it all with a flourish.