October 25, 2017 at 2:10 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Struggling to make sense of tragedy
Delaware crash, gay news, Washington Blade, Chittick

Richard Chittick (on right) and James Walton were killed Oct. 21 by an SUV while standing in front of the Starboard Restaurant in Dewey, Del. (Photo courtesy Chittick’s Facebook page)

Family members and a wide circle of friends of Richard Greg Chittick, 58, and James D. “Jimmy” Walton, 53, who were married in D.C. in October 2016, were struggling this week to make sense out of an accident on Oct. 21, in which an out-of-control SUV struck and killed the two men on a sidewalk in Dewey Beach, Del.

According to Delaware State Police, the SUV was driven by a 61-year-old man who appeared to have lost consciousness behind the wheel and hit the two men while they were standing beside their bicycles on a sidewalk in front of the Starboard Restaurant on Coastal Highway in Dewey Beach.

A police statement says the SUV, a black 2017 Chevrolet Suburban, hit Chittick and Walton at the same time it struck a utility pole, severing the pole along the ground. The police statement says the SUV continued across the sidewalk and entered the restaurant’s parking lot, where it struck an unoccupied Jeep and finally came to a stop.

The statement says Walton and Chittick were pronounced dead at the scene. It says the driver of the SUV, who was said to have suffered an “acute medical event,” was taken to Beebe Hospital in nearby Lewes, Del., for treatment.

“Neither impairment nor distraction is believed to be a factor in the crash,” says the statement, which adds that the driver was from New York but the vehicle had a Florida registration.

The statement also says the driver, whose name wasn’t released, had not been charged by police as of early Sunday. Authorities were continuing to investigate the crash and issued an appeal to the public seeking witnesses to the incident, police said.

“Investigators are requesting that anyone who may have witnessed the crash or otherwise encountered the involved vehicle prior to the collision occurring, to please contact Corp. N. DeMalto of the Collision Reconstruction Unit, Troop 7, at 302-703-3267, the police statement says.

In a Facebook posting on the day following the crash, Walton’s sister, Kendra Walton Adair, said her brother and Chittick were married and lived in D.C.

“My heart is broken,” she wrote in her posting. “Yesterday my brother Jimmy Walton and his husband Greg Chittick were killed in a tragic accident in Delaware. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around this,” she wrote. “Our families desperately need your prayers as we mourn the loss of two beautiful people.”

In interviews on Tuesday, Kendra Adair and Greg Chittick’s brother, Bruce Chittick, said they and Greg and Jimmy’s wide circle of friends in D.C. and Rehoboth Beach, where the two had a home, were struggling over the loss of two people who were beloved by so many.

Bruce Chittick, who’s a minister, said he performed his brother and Jimmy Walton’s outdoor wedding in October 2016 at a small picturesque park in D.C.’s Kalarama neighborhood called Spanish Steps.

In reminiscing about his brother, Bruce Chittick said, “I would just say that he loved Jimmy and he loved his friends and loved spending time with his friends. And they really found a sense of community and family there in D.C. and Rehoboth. And that was incredibly meaningful for them.”

He and Kendra Adair said Greg Chittick and Jimmy Walton spent many weekends in a home they owned in Rehoboth. They said the couple’s primary residence was in D.C.’s Beekman Place condominium development in Northwest D.C.

Adair and Bruce Chittick told the Blade that friends of the couple along with their respective family members planned to arrange a memorial service for the two men in D.C. in the near future. They said their families would first arrange for funeral services for Greg Chittick and Jimmy Walton in their respective hometowns of Alpena, Mich., for Chittick, and Newport, Ark., for Walton.

Bruce Chittick said his brother was born in Pontiac, Mich., and grew up in nearby Alpena, Mich., where he graduated from Alpena High School. He later graduated from the University of Michigan at Dearborn. After moving to Los Angles shortly after college, Chittick moved to D.C. in the late 1990s, his brother said, where he worked as a financial analyst for one or more consulting companies that did contract work for the federal government.

Friends from Washington and Rehoboth have said Chittick changed careers in the mid-2000s when he started a home renovation company. Those who knew him said he established a reputation as an excellent contractor for home renovation work. His brother said that about three years ago, however, he went back to his original career as a financial analyst.

Adair said her brother Jimmy worked as a graphic designer for consulting companies that had contracts with the government.

She said she and her family enjoyed visiting Greg and Jimmy at their homes in D.C. and Rehoboth, especially in August of 2014 when Greg organized a big celebration for Jimmy Walton’s 50th birthday. She said she witnessed Greg’s skills in home renovation when he and Jimmy visited her home in Arkansas and Greg immediately went to work adjusting the doors to her kitchen cabinets “so they opened and closed without making noise.”

Adair said the pain she and her family are experiencing over Jimmy and Greg’s untimely death has been eased a little by the outpouring of supportive messages she’s been receiving on Facebook. Many who are writing supportive messages never knew her brother or his husband but read about their deaths in the newspapers or happened to see her initial Facebook posting about the fatal crash.

“Complete strangers sent touching messages,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. And it means so much to my family.”

Some of those who sent messages were employees or customers of the Starboard Restaurant where the accident occurred.

“My sister and I have every intention of going there to the Starboard in person just to thank them,” she said. She noted that some of the restaurant’s employees and customers have placed flowers and pumpkins at the site where the crash took place as a memorial for her brother and Greg Chittick.

D.C. LGBT rights advocate John Klenert, who knew Chittick and Walton and attended their wedding, said the couple was widely known and liked in both Rehoboth and D.C.

“They stayed at my rental place in Rehoboth before they got their own house there,” Klenert said. “And since then they have invited me to stay at their Rehoboth place. Everybody that knew them liked them,” he said.

Adair said her mother called Delaware State Police to inquire about the driver of the SUV that hit her brother and Greg Chittick. Her mother told her a police representative said the driver had been released from the hospital but declined to provide any additional information.

A State Police spokesperson, when contacted by the Blade, declined to provide information about the driver other than what police had released in two written statements on the day following the crash. However, the spokesperson said at least one media report that the driver had died was incorrect.

“If I had run over and killed two people I think I would be reaching out to the families and I would want to be accountable in some way and I would do everything humanly possible to find out what happened and make sure it would never happen again,” Adair told the Blade.

“And I just need to know,” she said, about what really happened and why. “It’s killing us. I’m a Christian. My family, we’re Christians and we are all about forgiveness. And I’m perfectly willing to forgive him,” she said. “But I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep at night knowing that this person has just left the hospital and that’s that, you know?”

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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