Sapienza hit his head on the hard floor and had an instant fit, Flynn said. He was unresponsive for four days in a nearby hospital before he died on September 30th.
After 65-year-old Donald M. Lewinski was arrested, quoted and released earlier this week, he pleaded not guilty on Tuesday of the negligent murder of Sapienza and his death.
The fatal incident is only the last in a long list of violent clashes over mask rules in public spaces as the United States grappled with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Even in hard-hit states like New York, which have reported at least 466,908 cases and 32,939 deaths since the pandemic began, some have protested policies requiring masks and other precautions to stop the coronavirus from spreading.
The clash in West Seneca, NY, a suburb near Buffalo allegedly began with Sapienza and Lewinski clashing repeatedly at Pamps Red Zone Bar & Grill. The two men were both regulars at the bar and lived in the same neighborhood in West Seneca, though the prosecutor said it was unclear whether they knew each other prior to their Sept. 26 clash.
Witnesses saw the men arguing over how Lewinski spoke to bar staff and a young woman, officials said. Flynn said the men “cursed”
The surveillance video checked by the public prosecutor’s office allegedly shows that Lewinski pushed the 80-year-old hard enough to knock him to the ground. Lewinski quickly did his bill and left the bar. Sapienza died four days later, and a preliminary autopsy revealed the cause of death was a blunt force trauma to the head, Flynn said.
Lewinski’s attorney said the video of the scene will show that the blow was in self-defense.
“The videotape and testimony we received tonight make it very clear that Mr Sapienza was the attacker,” Barry Covert told the Washington Post in an email. “He left his bar stool and aggressively confronted my client.
The owner of Pamps Red Zone described Sapienza, a retired Marine, as “part of our Red Zone family and loved by all,” WKBW reported.
“He could fill a room with his personality,” Sapienza’s stepson Robert Graziano told Buffalo News. “It is good to see that this has been recognized for what it was and that justice is being served.”
If Lewinski is convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.
“It is certainly a tragedy that Mr Sapienza died,” Covert told the news. “My client and his family would like to extend their best wishes and condolences to Mr. Sapienza’s family.”
Mask mandates have disrupted communities where politics are viewed by some residents as politically motivated or as a violation of personal freedom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks in public when they are around people who do not live in the same household. But this advice has been applied unevenly even by the nation’s leaders.
As the pandemic spread, killing more than 210,000 people in the United States, political battles over the demand for masks in public became more intense. President Trump, who had long resisted wearing a mask in the early days of the pandemic, was alarmed again Monday when he took off his mask before going to the White House despite testing positive for the virus. Other Republican officials have also opposed severe restrictions restricting public gatherings and closing shops. Many still oppose this policy, even as the party grapples with a coronavirus cluster that has sickened more than a dozen high-profile Republicans.
“We see these ‘Karens’ out there in Walmarts who don’t wear masks and confront people who don’t wear masks,” Flynn said Monday. “We see it wherever people are confronted with each other and have arguments for not wearing masks. And it’s unfortunate that we now have an incident here in west New York where an 80-year-old man died. “
Darren Sands contributed to this report.