NEWS- Reluctant victim: Evan Kittredge dies after surgery

Evan Kittredge didn't measure his life by what happened November 1, 1996, so in the days after his October 14 death from complications following heart surgery, friends and family closed ranks to protect his memory and declined to speak with the Hook.

"It is a very difficult time," says Rebecca White. "We don't want to have him defined by that horrible crime."

Yet what happened to Kittredge rocked the community. In January 1999, Kittredge's brutal attack as well as the infamous murder of gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard prompted a City Council resolution urging the General Assembly to add sexual orientation to Virginia's "hate crime" statute. Ten years after the attack on Kittredge, that still hasn't happened.

Kittredge's ordeal began after dinner with an old fraternity buddy downtown. Kittredge was already in his 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix when he was approached by Chad DePasquale, then 22, Billy Ray McKethan, who was 18, and Joseph Breeden, then 17. 

One of his assailants told police they planned a "fag-bashing" that night.

The three abducted the slight, 5'6", 125-pound Kittredge, robbed, severely beat, and tortured him, and left him in the trunk of the Grand Prix to die. 

He nearly did, because the temperatures went down to the 20s on those nights, and he spent 40 chilly hours locked in the dark trunk– hungry, cold, and seriously injured– before the vehicle was found in a driveway off Berkmar Drive near Agnor Hurt Elementary School. 

His father had realized he was missing as early as Saturday morning, November 2, 1996, when the two had planned to talk and Kittredge didn't answer his phone, according to a published account. 

His parents drove down from Northern Virginia, filed a missing person report, and drove all over town looking for his car. 

Police found the Grand Prix late Sundey night, and Charlottesville police detective Gary Higgins is reported saying, "He didn't even look like a real person, that's how badly he was beaten. It was simply unbelievable." 

Judge Jay Swett called it the most "heinous" assault in recent memory, according to contemporary news accounts, and he sentenced the three perps to 20 years in prison in May 1997.

Kittredge, 43, was a 1985 UVA graduate with a degree in art history and sociology. He worked as a bus driver for UVA, and ultimately was a manager of UVA's transportation system for 10 years, until 1997, when he took a leave of absence following a car accident.

A member of Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, Kittredge served as president of the fraternity's alumni association. His frat brothers remembered him and mourned his death on a website.

"I will always recall him as a physically-small person with an absolutely enormous heart," writes Dan Fink from Iowa. Marshall S. Epstein remembers Kittredge's driving skills– another bus– on a trip to Randolph Macon Woman's College that had 25 people relieving themselves by the side of the road.

Ed Childers recalls the Gilligan hat Kittredge wore through high school at Fairfax High– and urges friends to "think of some of Evan's silliness and try to smile."

"I will always remember his sly and his easygoing style," writes Kevin Haga.

Melissa Bevard lived two houses down from Kittredge, and describes him as kind, thoughtful and considerate. She relates that Kittredge often came home around 3:30 or 4am with his music blaring. One day, "I said, 'I don't really  mind your music, but it's really loud at 3:30 or 4am.'" She says Kittredge was very apologetic and immediately turned down the volume when he came home late.

"I always think about that now," reflects Bevard. "Actually, now I'd like to hear it."

"I'm not going to let them re-program me," Kittredge said in a 1998 interview. "If I'm scared, the other guy wins. Emotionally, I guess I'm more careful. But I try to influence other people to keep them going. I don't walk around with a chip on my shoulder about what happened."

Former city councilor Meredith Richards wrote the resolution calling for the addition of sexual orientation to hate crimes. "It was a shock to see the kind of homophobia we thought we were immune to in Charlottesville," says Richards.

"My understanding is that he really wished to get out of the limelight," she adds. "He was not comfortable being the poster boy for gay rights."

"What brought it on in my case was worse in one way than what happened to Matthew Shepard," said Kittredge in the 1998 interview, "because these guys made an inference about my sexual preference, whereas Shepard was widely known to be gay. But his outcome was obviously far worse."

As much as Kittredge didn't want such a role, what happened to him that night in November 1996 forced Charlottesville to recognize that it was as susceptible to such a horrible crime as any other benighted place.

At least Kittredge's family and friends remember a caring and fun-loving son and friend, a man who refused to be defined by tragic events beyond his control.

Evan Kittredge talked about his ordeal in 1998.

Evan Kittredge died October 14, shortly before is 44th birthday.