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Fort Hood ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Activist Dies In Car Wreck

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — 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. Thursday when his vehicle sideswiped a car. 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the combat zone in Iraq was followed by his discharge in June 2008 for “homosexual admission,” a violation of the since-rescinded 1993 policy. Don’t ask, don’t tell strictly prohibited anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the U.S. military.

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.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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