Loss is felt from Orlando to Tarpon

Family and friends remember the man who grew up in Tarpon and lost his life on the job as a UCF police officer.

Published September 30, 2005

Mario R. Jenkins was serious about his job. Everything else was fair game.

"I consider myself a humorous, funny person," said Sgt. Woody Furnas, supervisor of the police canine unit at the University of Central Florida. "I wasn't in his league."

And like several of his colleagues at the UCF Police Department, Jenkins, 29, was a Marine, and therefore part of a brotherhood within a brotherhood.

Their brother was fatally shot Saturday by an Orlando reserve police officer during a scuffle before a football game. Jenkins was undercover investigating underage drinking at tailgate parties.

This week, the loss of Jenkins has been felt from Orlando, where UCF students remembered that he always seemed to be smiling, to Tarpon Springs, where he grew up, was an altar boy at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church and played football for Tarpon Springs High School.

Witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel that Jenkins fired shots into the air to signal for help after trying to break up a crowd of students. He was shot by another officer. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement's investigation into the incident will be finished in 60 days, said FDLE spokesman Geo Morales.

Born in Michigan, Jenkins moved to Tarpon Springs as a toddler. In Tarpon Springs he was an altar boy at St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church. He graduated from Tarpon Springs High School in 1994 and won the school's Student of the Month award that May.

After high school he joined the Marine Corps and served on both active and reserve duty. While in the reserve he attended Santa Fe Community College.

In 2001 he married Valerie Vaughn.

"They pretty much lived for each other," said Ryan Clarke, an officer with the UCF Police Department who met Jenkins in the Marine Reserve.

Clarke said he and Jenkins were movie buffs but Jenkins' wife put the duo on restriction from watching the movie Full Metal Jacket anymore.

Jenkins was funny even when he wasn't trying to be, Clarke said. He provided comic relief during down time in the reserve.

They worked opposite shifts: Jenkins worked nights, Clarke worked days. The one who was off would call the other to harass him.

"I'm off, watching TV, having a beer," Clarke said one would tease.

Jenkins joined the Clermont Police Department in 2000 and left shortly after to join the UCF Police Department.

"He knew his job and he worked it very well," said Sgt. Troy Williamson, spokesman for the UCF Police Department. "His job was to protect those students. Whether it was drug enforcement or alcohol enforcement, his main goal was to protect those students."

Jenkins exceeded performance standards in his evaluations, Williamson said.

Flowers have been coming to the department in droves.

He was an animal lover. Just a few months ago, Jenkins was selected as a canine handler but for two years before he was selected, he would volunteer his own time to help train the dogs, Furnas said. Then he would go home to Tank, his English bulldog.

Ashley Burns, 26, a journalism major at UCF and the house director of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, said Jenkins was thrilled to get his police canine, Makye. They would let their dogs run around in the back yard, and they'd argue over who had the better dog.

"If you think your dog is so cool, why don't you tell him to stop pooping in my yard," Burns remembered telling Jenkins the last time he stopped by.

Jenkins would tease his partner about being a rookie. They would joke and talk about UCF football.

It wasn't unusual for Jenkins to park his car and come out to chat with students. He was so well respected, students would go out of their way to make sure he had an easy night, Burns said.

"I think the thing that I'll remember about him the most was that he was always the mellow one that stood around with a smile on his face," Burns said.

He said many members of the UCF Greek community would be present at his funeral in Orlando Saturday.

Jenkins is survived by his wife, Valerie Jenkins; his parents, Franc and Ramona Jenkins of Tarpon Springs; his grandmother Aurora Rodriquez of Tarpon Springs; his aunts and uncles, Rudy and Benita Jenkins and Michael and Pepita Calendar of Michigan; his father and mother-in-law, Harold and Dolores Vaughn of Bushnell; his brother-in-law Richard Vaughn of Gainesville and many cousins.