Man pleads not guilty in death of 80-year-old over mask spat

October 7, 2020 GMT

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (AP) — A New York bar patron accused of giving a fatal shove to an 80-year-old man during a confrontation about the need to wear a mask has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide.

Donald Lewinski, 65, entered a plea of not guilty at a court on Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance, his attorney Barry Covert said.

Rocco Sapienza confronted Lewinski at a bar in West Seneca on Sept. 26 because he was not wearing a mask, Erie County prosecutors said Monday. Lewinski then shoved Sapienza, who fell and struck his head on the floor, District Attorney John Flynn said.


Sapienza was knocked unconscious. He died of his injuries Oct. 1, WIVB-TV reported.

Covert, Lewinski’s attorney, called Sapienza’s death a tragedy, but said in an email to The Associated Press that “we received witness statements that make it very clear that the victim was the aggressor.”

Sapienza was disgruntled for multiple reasons, including that Lewinski’s son’s band was playing a show in the parking lot and had occupied the space Sapienza usually parked in, Covert said.

“He was initially disgruntled that the band set up in the parking lot that prevented him from using his usual parking spot,” Covert said. “He was disgruntled that he could hear the music inside, and he was unhappy that my client and other people were bringing tables and chairs from inside the bar outside to the patrons who were enjoying the band out in the parking lot.”

Lewinski was wearing a neck gaiter as a face covering and did forget to raise it over his nose and mouth when he came back and forth inside the bar, Covert said, but added Lewinski, “when asked to put his mask on, did so readily.”

As a condition of his release, West Seneca Town Justice Shannon Filbert ordered Lewinski to stay away from Sapienza’s widow, prohibited him from posting about the case on social media, barred him from entering bars or restaurants and prohibited him from possessing any guns.

West Seneca is a suburb of Buffalo in western New York.