FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The driver who lost control of his pickup and drove through a crowd at this weekend’s Stonewall Pride Festival in Fort Lauderdale apologized Monday to the community and the family of the man he killed.
“This was a horrible accident and I offer my sincere regrets to all those who were impacted by this tragic event,” said Fred Johnson, 77, identified by police late Monday as the driver.
Johnson and the people he struck with his vehicle were all members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, preparing to participate in the parade and festival to celebrate the LGBTQ community.
Fellow chorus member James Fahy, 75, died from his injuries Saturday.
“I love my Chorus family and the community and would never do anything to intentionally harm anyone,” Johnson said in a statement released through the chorus. “Please know that I hold my fellow Chorus member, Jim Fahy, in my heart forever and offer my condolences to his friends and family.”
Fort Lauderdale Police said the incident, which remains under investigation, appears to have been an accident. Johnson co-operated with detectives, telling them he lost control and the vehicle started accelerating unexpectedly.
Two other chorus members were hit but survived: Gary Keating, 69, founding director of the chorus, and Jerry Vroegh, 67, of Fort Lauderdale.
Keating was treated and re- leased from the hospital Saturday, while Vroegh was sent home Monday.
Chorus President Justin Knight said Fahy’s loss had a profound effect on the community. “He was a longtime, valued member of our Chorus family and he will be deeply missed,” Knight said.“We wish a speedy recovery for Chorus member Jerry Vroegh who was injured at the accident. We thank everyone for their concern, compassion and support.”
Fellow chorus member Thomas Cusack, 61, said both men
were friendly with each other and passionate about the organization’s mission and the ability to inspire others through music.
“I don’t use the word family much, but this chorus really is one,” he said. He described Fahy as quiet and unassuming. “Just a very nice man,” he said. “He was friendly to everybody.”
Norm Kent, publisher of South Florida Gay News, said Fahy would arrive at the newspaper’s office every week to pick up 35 copies of the latest edition, which he would bring back to his condo to distribute to his neighbors.
“He’s a gentle man,” said Kent. “He was upset that the management company of the condo he lives in banned our newspaper box, so he made sure his neighbors got their copy.”
While Cusack was not at the festival in Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors, he said he could not believe an early report describing Johnson as hurling obscenities at police who surrounded him after the accident. “That didn’t sound like the man we know at all,” said Cusack, who has been friends with Johnson for four years.
“He had a solo in our last concert, ‘With One Look’ from ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ and was absolutely tremendous,” he said. “I was enamored with that performance. We all were.”