December 4, 2009 at 3:35 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
2 gay men uninjured after car plunges into Anacostia River

Two gay men leaving Ziegfeld’s/ Secrets received only minor injuries early Sunday morning after their car plunged into the Anacostia River behind the club, where the street leads to the riverbank without a warning sign or guard rail.

D.C. police identified the two men as John Orr, 49, of Arlington, Va., and John Knew, 39, of Alexandria, Va.

“Fortunately, we were able to swim out OK,” Orr told the Agenda in a telephone interview.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department said fire trucks and an ambulance rushed to the scene after guards stationed at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security building, located near where the car entered the river, called 911 for help.

“Units arrived on the scene at the site where a small car went into the water,” said spokesperson Pete Piringer. “Reportedly, there were two occupants in the vehicle. One managed to get out. Fire rescue crews were able to quickly remove the other victim from the car safely.”

Orr told the Agenda that he and Knew managed to get out of the car and onto the riverbank just as rescue workers arrived.

Orr said neither he nor Knew were familiar with the warehouse district known as Buzzard’s Point, where the gay entertainment complex Ziegfeld’s/Secrets and a straight club named Crucible, are located.

Orr said he was driving the car and made a wrong turn onto a side street that he thought would take him out of the warehouse area and onto a main street.

Acknowledging that he may have been distracted, he said he continued driving until it was too late to avoid going into the river.

When visited Sunday by a reporter, the site showed no sign or guard rail at the foot of T Street, S.W., which leads into the riverbank, to indicate the river is located about 10 feet from the paved street.

Additionally, a bright light shining from a guard shack next to the Department of Homeland Security building made it difficult to see that the riverbank and a 10-foot drop into the water lies a short distance away — directly in the path of the street.

Asked if a sign or road barrier might have alerted him to the fact that he was headed toward the river, Orr said, “It probably would have helped. Yeah, it probably would have helped.”

A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Public Works, which is responsible for street maintenance, could not immediately be reached.

Orr said rescue workers offered to take him and Knew to a hospital for observation, but the two men declined the offer. Instead, he and Knew arranged for someone else to take them home.

Piringer said a D.C. police boat and a diver arrived on the scene shortly after other emergency responders arrived. He noted the diver searched the river as a precautionary measure to determine if other people were in the car, even though the two men who emerged from the water said they were the only ones in the vehicle.

In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Piringer said D.C. police were conducting a follow-up investigation into the incident.

Commander David Kamperin, who heads the First District Police station, said an officer on the scene was expected to complete a full report on the incident after Agenda deadline.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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