PITTSFORD, N.Y. — 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, died Thursday in a traffic accident in western New York. He was 36.
Mr. Manzella lived in the Chautauqua County town of Portland; he and his partner were married in July.
Mr. Manzella was driving on Interstate 490 in suburban Rochester about 8:30 p.m. Thursday when his vehicle collided with another 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.
Mr. Manzella’s 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combat zone in Iraq was followed by his discharge in June 2008 for ‘‘homosexual admission,’’ a violation of the since-rescinded policy prohibiting service members from openly acknowledging they are gay.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, Mr. Manzella did media interviews, each a potential violation of the policy.
‘‘This is who I am. This is my life,’’ he said at a news conference before his discharge. ‘‘It has never affected my job performance before. I don’t think it will make a difference now.”
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.