by Benny Cartwright
Longtime bartender and beloved member of the local LGBTQ community Josh Gilliland died at the age of 47 on June 14, after being struck by a hit-and-run driver days earlier, according to friends and family members. Gilliland, who was walking to work at Cheers in University Heights on Saturday, June 10, was hit around 8:45 pm near the southeast corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Park Boulevard.
Gilliland had walked this route along Park Boulevard to the bar on his way to work for over 20 years, said his longtime friend Scott Moore. The scene of the hit-and-run is just three blocks from Cheers. Co-workers started to become concerned when Gilliland didn’t show up after he was due in at 9 pm that night.
“Josh was to be in at 9 to barback like he always does, and he just never showed up,” Roger Scott, Gilliland’s coworker of 21 years, told Fox5 News.
According to police, Gilliland was standing near the bus lane, east of the crosswalk on El Cajon Boulevard when he was hit. He was found to be unconscious at the scene and suffered from a laceration to the back of the head, right shoulder fracture, scattered brain bleeds, and minor abrasions. For a few days following the incident, Gilliland remained in critical condition in the hospital, with friends and family uncertain if he would survive. On Wednesday, June 14 at 5:35 pm, Gilliland died.
The following day, on Thursday, June 15, community members and loved ones organized a vigil to “finish Josh’s walk” and draw attention to the intersection that many describe as dangerous. Over 100 people met at the southeast corner of Park and El Cajon boulevards, with signs and candles honoring Gilliland. The group rallied at the intersection and then ended at Cheers, taking the route Gilliland would have walked on the night of the hit-and-run.
At the bar, community members remembered Gilliland as “a loving, friendly, generous ray of light” with a “gentle soul and unforgettable sense of humor.”
Stevan Dupas, a former manager at Cheers, said that he will miss Gilliland’s laughter and humor.
“[Josh] was the fourth friend I made when I moved to San Diego in 2003, and I’ve always loved that I had to move so far away from Kansas City to meet a friend from Kansas.”
Gilliand and Moore moved to San Diego from Kansas in 2001.
“Josh was and will live on in others as a ray of pure light, happiness, kindness, goodness, and joy,” said Sean Murray, a patron of Cheers who knew Gilliland.
The hit-and-run driver is still at large.
Witnesses described the vehicle as a dark-colored Honda Civic or BMW 3 Series that was traveling north on Park Boulevard, turning right on El Cajon Boulevard, where it struck Gilliand near the intersection. Anyone with additional information should contact Crime Stoppers at 888-580-TIPS.
LGBTQ San Diego News has reached out to the City of San Diego for more information on the intersection, to see if any additional safety measures will be taken. Numerous community members have stated for years that the intersection is dangerous with many cars speeding through the turns and ignoring the “No Turn on Red” signs. We will report additional information as we receive it.
Celebration of Life
A series of events, entitled “Remembering Josh,” will be held this Saturday, July 8. A memorial service will take place first, at 12 noon, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, located at 4190 Front St. Following the service, community members are invited to The Merrow, located at 1271 University Ave. in Hillcrest, for a celebration of life.
–Benny Cartwright is a longtime activist and community leader. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @BennyC80.