Brocton Soldier Who Fought ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Killed In Crash
ROCHESTER – A Brocton native who served in the U.S. Army and was outspoken opposing the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, died in an automobile accident Thursday in Rochester.
According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Darren Manzella was killed after he was struck by an SUV while pushing a car on Interstate 490.
Cpl. John Helfer of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office told the Democrat and Chronicle the incident began as a two-car crash on the westbound lanes of the highway in Pittsford, when Manzella’s car sideswiped another car about 8:30 p.m.
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 the man between the two vehicles. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The other two involved drivers were taken to Strong Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.
Manzella, 36, is a graduate of Brocton Central School and West Virginia University. An Iraq War veteran and sergeant in the United States Army National Guard, he is the son of Michael and Nancy Manzella of Portland.
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the combat zone in Iraq was followed by his discharge in June 2008 for “homosexual admission,” a violation of the since-rescinded policy prohibiting service members from openly acknowledging they are gay.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.”
Manzella said he first told a military supervisor about his sexual orientation in August 2006, while working in a division headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas. Three weeks later, his battalion commander told him an investigation had been closed without finding “proof of homosexuality.” 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.
He married Javier Lapeira-Soto at a ceremony in Rochester on July 5.