ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A gay combat medic who challenged the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy while serving in Iraq, died this week in a car crash in New York.
Darren Manzella, 36, a former Army sergeant, went on national television in 2007 to reveal his sexual orientation, becoming the face of gay servicemen and women before being discharged in 2008 for publicly discussing his sexual identity.
The policy was repealed in 2011, and a friend said Manzella had recently signed on as a reservist.
The accident that killed him Thursday night began as a two-car collision in the westbound lanes of Interstate 490 in Pittsford, when Manzella's car sideswiped another car about 8:30 p.m., according to Cpl. John Helfer of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
Manzella stopped his car in the middle lane, got out and started pushing it from behind, Helfer said. A sport utility vehicle rear-ended the car, pinning Manzella between the two vehicles.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, Helfer said.
The two other people were taken to Strong Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.
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. A few months later, he was discharged.
In a 2010 letter to President Barack Obama, Manzella detailed his journey.
"I gave voice to the tens of thousands of men and women who serve everyday under the fear of DADT. The interview also ended my career," Manzella wrote.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who opposed "don't ask, don't tell," remembered Manzella in an emailed statement
"We will always remember Sgt. Manzella as someone who had the courage both to fight for his country and to change it," Schumer said.
Manzella, a Rochester resident, was working at the Canandaigua Veterans Affairs Medical Center's crisis call center. He married Javier Lapeira-Soto at a ceremony in Rochester on July 5.
Friend Anne Colwell Colangelo of Rome, N.Y., 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 together in tiny Brocton.
"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," she said.