A longtime Senate employee and popular youth baseball coach on Capitol Hill has died after an altercation outside his favorite restaurant and steps from his home near Nationals Park, according to his family and D.C. police.
Berner Richard Johnson III, 48, known as “Bud,” was pronounced dead Sunday at MedStar Washington Hospital Center following four days in intensive care. His family said they believe he was involved in a verbal argument inside the restaurant that turned physical outdoors. They said he suffered severe head trauma.
Authorities said they are investigating the circumstances. Police said Tuesday that they had not been provided a ruling from the medical examiner on the cause and manner of death. No arrests have been made.
The altercation occurred about 11:30 p.m. May 15 in the 100 block of K Street SE, around the corner from the Scarlet Oak restaurant and bar on New Jersey Avenue SE.
A police report taken immediately after the incident classified it as an aggravated assault. In an Internet posting to residents, police said Johnson “got into a dispute with a group of individuals, ultimately leading to the complainant being assaulted.”
A police spokeswoman declined to comment on the incident or investigation. The family said police told them they have identified people involved in the altercation.
Johnson’s death touched a broad spectrum of people. He played on a softball team, and players flocked to his hospital bedside. For years, he coached his sons’ teams in the Capitol Hill Little League, where he was known for his patient guidance of sometimes rambunctious boys.
Johnson also worked for 30 years in the document room in the basement of the Hart Senate Office Building, which provides copies of bills, resolutions, legislative reports and other publications. He started working there when he was 18 and received his anniversary pin two weeks ago.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted Johnson’s death on the Senate floor Monday, saying “he was beloved by his Senate family.” Schumer called the death “a reminder to all of us that life is fleeting and to hold tight to those we love.”
Johnson’s brother, Brad Johnson, who lives in Atlanta, said the family does not know details of what happened Wednesday night. “It’s so close and personal, at this time we just don’t know if we want to know,” he said.
He said his brother “was just so well loved by his friends and his family.”
Brad Johnson confirmed that postings on the Caring Bridge Internet site were from the family. They offered intimate updates of Berner Johnson’s medical care and said it took D.C. police and paramedics 19 minutes to revive Johnson before he got to the hospital.
By Sunday morning, the family wrote, “the situation did not improve” and his final moments were being planned. He donated his kidneys and liver and was taken off life support later that night. “It is a horrible situation but the response and support has been beautiful,” the family wrote.
Berner Johnson had two children from a first marriage, Cory Johnson, 29, and Brad Johnson, 28. He married Diane Johnson, a schoolteacher in Montgomery County, nearly 23 years ago, and they had a son, Bo, who is 14.
They moved to the Navy Yard area about 10 years ago and moved into Capitol Hill Tower on New Jersey Avenue, a minute walk to the Scarlet Oak. The family described the restaurant as his go-to place, writing on the website, “Think of ‘Cheers’ for Bud.”
The coaches and staff at Capitol Hill Little League said Johnson had been an active volunteer for years since the group was formed in 2011, coaching teams and his two sons as it grew to include 650 players.
“He was the steadiest and most solid person,” said league board member Adam Maier, 44. “He cared deeply about kids. He had the capacity to find the strength and the good quality in kids even when those kids were totally screwing around, not listening and not behaving. He managed to have patience to find the best in them.”
In an email to parents and players, the league president wrote that many had watched Johnson coach and seen “with pride as his son Bo has developed into a fine young man and fine baseball player.”
It ended, “All of Capitol Hill will miss you, Bud.”