October 17, 2021

The Queens County Citizen

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The case of an 80-year-old man who died after a mask dispute in an upstate New York bar

The case of an 80-year-old man who died after a mask dispute in an upstate New York bar

An Erie County District Attorney has been charged in connection with the death of an 80-year-old man who died last week after a brawl at a bar in New York about wearing a mask and misbehaving with bar staff.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced Monday that Donald Lewinsky, 65, is facing criminal negligent homicide charges in the death of Rocco Sapienza.

Sapinza allegedly confronted Lewinsky at the West Seneca bar near Buffalo on Sept. 26, how he talked to bar staff and brought a bucket of beer to a team playing outside Lewinsky for not wearing a mask regularly, Flynn said.

When Lewinsky returned inside the bar, he allegedly moved Sapienza to the ground.

“He was in an unresponsive state right away. He immediately went to detain me on the floor of the bar,” Flynn said.

After taking Sapienza to Erie County Medical Center, he did not respond until he was injured on Sept. 30, Flynn said.

Sapienza, a retired steel worker and Marine veteran from Pittsburgh, is known for standing up for the little guy, his son Richard Sapienza told CNN affiliate KDKA.

“He wasn’t afraid to call someone for pretending to be stupid, stupid,” Richard Sapinja said. “If you know my father, he’s a kind person. And my father can communicate with anyone. He’s a very friendly person.”

According to nephew Blaine Riley, Sapinja was at the bar himself that night. It was his neighbor hanging out and he knew the staff well.

“I don’t care what the reason is, you never put your hands up in your 80s and move like that,” Riley told CNN. “My Uncle Rocky must have passed around the family … not like that.”

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Sapienza has a wife, Anita, who is still in shock and has not done well, according to Riley. Family members and friends gathered for a life service on Tuesday in his honor.

Preliminary autopsy results showed Sapinza had died of a head injury with a blunt force injury, Flynn said.

“I got the impression from the witness statements that these two don’t like each other … these two have been banging their heads there for a minute,” Flynn explained.

“So there are other things here besides the mask,” the district attorney said.

The clash was recorded on video, but no audio, Flynn said.

The accused could face up to four years in prison

According to all the evidence collected so far, including witness statements, Flynn said that although they were regulars at the bar, there were no indications that any of the men were intoxicated or that they knew each other beforehand.

Authorities arrested Lewinsky on Monday and released him with an attendance ticket because the newly passed state bail laws did not consider criminal negligent homicide a felony, Flynn said, if he did not comply with certain criteria, such as an outstanding warrant.

Lewinsky’s lawyer, Barry Cowart, plans to plead guilty when his client appears in court, The Buffalo News reported.

“This is definitely Mr. Sapinja’s blindfolded tragedy,” Covert told the newspaper. “My client and his family would like to extend their best wishes and sympathy to the family of Mr. Sapinja.”

CNN contacted Lewinsky’s lawyer for comment, but there was no response.

Flynn said Lewinsky will be arrested at 5pm Tuesday in West Seneca Town Court and faces up to four years in prison if convicted.