Darren Manzella, a gay combat medic discharged from the Army after criticizing the military's `don't ask, don't tell' policy in a 2007 television interview, has died in a traffic accident in western New York. He was 36.
His aunt, Robin Mahoney, on Friday confirmed his death. Manzella lived in the Chautauqua County town of Portland; he and his partner were married in July.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said Manzella was driving on Interstate 490 in suburban Rochester about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday when his vehicle sideswiped a car.
Killed: Sergeant Darren Manzella, an openly gay active duty soldier back from Iraq, has died in a traffic accident in western New York. He was 36
Newlyweds: Darren Manzella and Javier Lapeira together on their wedding day last month
Married: Darren Manzella (right) and his husband Javier Lapeira (left) would have celebrated their two-month wedding anniversary next week
Tragic accident: Deputies said he stopped his vehicle, got out and began pushing the car from behind. He was then hit by an SUV, pinning him between the two vehicles
Deputies said he stopped his vehicle, got out and began pushing the car from behind. He was then hit by an SUV, pinning him between the two vehicles. He died at the scene.
Manzella's December 2007 appearance on '60 Minutes' from the combat zone in Iraq was followed by his discharge in June 2008 for 'homosexual admission,' a violation of the since-rescinded policy prohibiting service members from openly acknowledging they are gay.
After the television appearance and his return from Iraq, Manzella did media interviews, each a potential violation of the policy.
'This is who I am. This is my life,' Manzella said at a Washington news conference before his discharge. 'It has never affected my job performance before. I don't think it will make a difference now. And to be honest since then, I don't see a difference because of my homosexuality.'
Outspoken: In December 2007, Manzella told a 60 Minutes interviewer that he was gay, and had violated the 1993 policy that barred gay servicemen and women from disclosing their sexual orientation
Partner: Darren Manzella his husband Javiier Lapeira - when the army sergeant attempted to show officials he had violated policy he showed them pictures of a trip he and his boyfriend had taken
In love: Darren Manzella (right) and Javier Lapeira (left) - Manzella was working at the Canandaigua V.A.¿s crisis call center, and married Javier Lapeira-Soto at a ceremony in Rochester on July 5
Friend Anne Colwell Colangelo of Rome said she learned from relatives last night that the man she’d known since fourth grade had died.
Manzella moved to Rochester a few years ago after several years away, Ms. Colangelo said, 'which was awesome.'
Manzella was working at the Canandaigua V.A.’s crisis call center, and married Javier Lapeira-Soto at a ceremony in Rochester on July 5th.
He and his husband Javier Lapeira would have celebrated their two-month wedding anniversary next week.
'Last night, after finding out the news, his mother and father went right to Rochester to pick up his husband,' she said. 'Javier became their son the day they married.'
Common knowledge: Even when 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was in effect, Darren Manzella was 'out' to his fellow soldiers, yet his superiors turned a blind eye to his sexual orientation
She said Manzella had recently joined the Army Reserves.
'Being in the military and serving was a very important part of his life,' she said. 'He was very proud to be a soldier.'
She and Manzella grew up side-by-side in tiny Brocton, Chautauqua County.
'He has lived so much life. He’s been around the world — so much experience he put into such a short time here. He really was a hero in so many ways.'
Manzella served in Iraq and Kuwait as an Army medic, earning a Combat Medical Badge for treating fellow soldiers while under fire in Baghdad.
He was out to his Army buddies, but went to his commander after he began receiving anonymous emails warning him to 'turn the flame down.'
The officer reported Manzella in accordance with the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.
Man on a mission: Just weeks after coming 'out' to his fellow officers and superiors, Darren was send to Iraq
Manzella cooperated fully with the investigation that followed, Manzella, submitting photos of him and his boyfriend and video of a road trip they had taken together.
But curiously, at the conclusion of their investigation, the Army told Manzella to return to work because 'proof of homosexuality' had not been found.
A month later, he was sent to Iraq.
His supporters said the overseas assignment demonstrated how the military was arbitrarily enforcing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy during the war.
Manzella enlisted in the Army in 2002. He was awarded the Combat Medical Badge for service in Iraq. When he was discharged, he was a sergeant serving at Fort Hood with the 1st Cavalry Division