An accident shortly after 2 a.m. on July 1 in which a motorist struck and killed a bicyclist minutes after the two left the same gay bar has shocked and saddened many in Rehoboth’s LGBT community.
Brian C. Meegan, 38, who was employed as a bartender at L Bar, a popular gay bar on Rehoboth Avenue just outside the Rehoboth town limits, allegedly slammed into the rear of a bicycle ridden by PNC Bank loan officer Russell “Rusty” Henman, 44, while driving his 2003 Jeep Wrangler, according to a statement released by Delaware State Police.
“The death of Rusty Henman was a tragic accident made even more so by the fact that Brian Meegan, the driver, is also part of our community,” said Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth Community Center, an LGBT facility located about a mile from the scene of the accident.
The shock among Henman’s friends over his sudden death was heightened by information released by State Police that Meegan allegedly was driving while intoxicated and failed to stop his vehicle after hitting Henman’s bike. The police statement says his vehicle dragged the bike for several hundred feet before Meegan pulled into a parking lot and removed the bike from under the Jeep.
Police said they arrested Meegan a short time after he pulled into a CVS Pharmacy parking lot. News media photos show him being held in handcuffs by police at the site of the parking lot.
“The front of Meegan’s Jeep struck the rear of Henman’s bike causing him to be ejected onto the hood of the Jeep,” the police statement says. “Henman was carried approximately 400 feet until the Jeep struck a curb and stopped, throwing Henman onto the roadway. He was pronounced dead at the scene,” the statement says.
State Police charged Meegan with one count each of first-degree vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a collision resulting in death, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to report an accident resulting in injury or death, no proof of motor vehicle insurance and inattentive driving.
John Meng, co-owner of L Bar, disputes the police claim that Meegan was intoxicated, saying other employees who observed him during his work shift on the night of the accident say he wasn’t drinking.
“Brian was not drunk,” Meng told the Blade on Monday. “We have video of him at work. I don’t understand what the State Police said. He was not drinking while on his shift.”
Meng said Meegan no longer works for L Bar. “We don’t know where he is,” he said.
The Cape Gazette, a Delaware newspaper, quoted court documents filed by police that stated, “It became obvious that Meegan was under the influence of alcohol. Meegan displayed slurred speech, glassy, blood shot eyes and his breath had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage,” the newspaper quoted the court document as saying.
Police said Meegan refused a field sobriety test, prompting them to take him to nearby Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del., where his blood alcohol level was tested. Police did not immediately release the results of the blood test, saying the test conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner “could take some time.”
Meegan was arraigned in a Sussex County court and initially held in the Sussex County Correctional Institution. The Cape Gazette reported he was released on July 3 on $27,000 bail.
The Cape Gazette reported court records show that Meegan had been charged six weeks earlier with driving under the influence of alcohol in nearly the same area where his Jeep struck Henman’s bike. The Cape Gazette reported that in the earlier incident Meegan was also charged with failure to have insurance identification in his possession and failure to have vehicle registration on his possession.
Rehoboth Beach gay activist Peter Schott, who knew Henman, said Henman lived in the rural town of Snow Hill, Md., but spent nearly every weekend in Rehoboth.
“He liked to sing,” said Schott, who noted that he often saw Henman at the Rehoboth gay bar and restaurant Rigby’s, which features a piano player who leads patrons in singing show tunes. Schott said Henman patronized other places that feature karaoke.
People who know Meegan said he recently moved to Rehoboth from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and began working as a bartender at L Bar.
Meegan posted a message on his Facebook page at 5:13 p.m. on June 30 saying, “Working [a] double today, ready for Super July Fourth Week.” People familiar with L Bar said he was referring to working a double shift at the establishment, which included the afternoon happy hour period and the evening shift. His evening shift on June 30 would have extended past midnight to July 1, the morning of the accident.
The accident that took Henman’s life took place where Rehoboth Avenue merges into Route 1 Coastal Highway. Many Rehoboth residents have noted that bicycle traffic has increased in recent years. Some have called for more clearly designated bike lanes, especially in the location where Rehoboth Avenue merges with Route 1.
Others have called for more public awareness of programs aimed at helping people with alcohol related problems. Elkins said Camp Rehoboth hosts a weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Thursdays in which 60 or more people participate.
“There are a number of AA meetings daily in the Rehoboth area,” he said.
LGBTQ Democrats briefed on D.C. ranked choice voting bill
Council may already have enough votes to pass it
Members of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, received a briefing Monday night from the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) on a bill she introduced in July calling for a “ranked choice” voting system for D.C. elections.
The bill, called the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021, calls for D.C. to join about 50 other jurisdictions across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, in giving voters the option of ranking up to five candidates for a particular office in the order of their preference.
Under the ranked choice voting system, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, the candidate is declared the winner. But if no candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the first-choice votes in a race where there are three or more candidates, the system provides an instant runoff.
“The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate will have their votes count for their next choice,” according to a statement released by Henderson at the time she introduced the legislation. “This process continues in rounds until there’s a majority winner,” the statement says.
T.J. Maloney, Henderson’s chief of staff, told Capital Stonewall Democrats members during a virtual Zoom meeting that studies of the ranked choice voting system in jurisdictions where it has been adopted show that overall voter turnout has increased and, following a voter education process, voters appear to adjust and support the system.
Six other D.C. Council members joined Henderson in co-introducing the VOICE ranked choice voting bill, indicating it may already have a seven-vote majority in its favor on the 13-member Council. However, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) does not support the current version of the bill, according to spokesperson Lindsay Walton.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee where the bill was sent, has not scheduled a hearing on the bill, even though Allen is one of the bill’s co-introducers.
Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which is the governing body of the D.C. Democratic Party and of which the Capital Stonewall Democrats is an affiliated member, voted to oppose the VOICE Act legislation. Some of its members said they believe a ranked choice voting system would be beneficial to the city’s smaller political party candidates, including Republicans and Statehood Green Party candidates, and would place Democratic Party candidates at a disadvantage.
Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the 2020 D.C. Democratic primary, said he favors a simple runoff election system over a ranked choice voting system in cases where multiple candidates run, and none receive at least 50 percent of the vote.
Among the ranked choice bill’s supporters is gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. Naughton told the Washington Blade he is not an expert on the ranked choice voting system but his initial research into the system leads him to believe the system has the potential for providing a greater electoral voice for minority communities, including possibly the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ candidates who run for public office.
Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier said the group was in the process of learning more about the ranked file voting system. No one raised the issue of the group taking a position on the legislation at Monday night’s meeting.
Lesbian D.C. housing director to retire
Polly Donaldson worked to expand affordable units
Polly Donaldson, who has served as director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development since 2015 as one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s first high-level LGBTQ appointments, announced on Sept. 10 that she will leave her position at the end of this month to retire.
A statement released by the mayor’s office says Donaldson has led the design and implementation of the mayor’s housing initiative that has produced more than 14,250 units of affordable housing with another 12,300 units under construction or in the planning stages.
“When I came into office and committed to investing at least $100 million into the Housing Production Trust Fund every year, I knew we would need a leader with a true passion for affordable housing to get those funds out the door and into the community – and Polly was the right person for the job,” Bowser said in the statement.
“Then, two years ago, when we set a bold goal to build 36,000 new homes by 2025, with at least a third of them affordable, I was confident that Polly would have a plan to make that happen,” the mayor said in her statement. “She leaves D.C. government with our city on track to meet that goal, and for that we are grateful, and we celebrate her service to our city.”
At the time Donaldson began her job as the city’s housing director she was a recognized expert in affordable housing and homeless related programs. She had served since 2004 as executive director of the Transitional Housing Corporation, a nonprofit organization that provides services to homeless people and develops programs for transitioning them into permanent homes.
HRC endorses McAuliffe, Ayala, Herring in Va.
Advocacy group on Tuesday announced statewide endorsements
The Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday announced endorsements for three Virginia candidates on the statewide ballot in November.
These endorsements include Terry McAuliffe for governor, state Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County) for lieutenant governor and Mark Herring for reelection as attorney general.
“All Virginians deserve leaders who will fight for their rights to achieve health and success regardless of who they are or who they love,” said HRC in their press release. “The Human Rights Campaign is proud to endorse incredible champions who have spent their careers delivering on that promise of equality.”
McAuliffe, who was governor from 2014-2018, signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees and vetoed every anti-LGBTQ bill that came across his desk during his tenure.
“Every human being deserves to be treated equally, live free from fear, and thrive regardless of who they are or who they love,” McAuliffe said. “I am grateful for the support of the Human Rights Campaign, and together we will continue to ensure Virginia remains open and welcoming to all.”
Herring, a vocal supporter of LGBTQ equality, in 2017 joined 18 other state attorneys general in calling on Congress to block then-President Trump’s ban on transgender service members openly serving in the military.
Ayala, a state delegate since 2018, similarly co-sponsored and voted in support of numerous pro-equality bills, including the landmark Virginia Values Act, a bipartisan measure that made Virginia the first state in the South to extend nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
If elected, Ayala will become the Virginia’s first female and woman of color lieutenant governor.
Virginia’s statewide general election is Nov. 2. Early voting begins Friday.
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