Man faces charges after 80-year-old dies following mask dispute

Tim Fitzsimons
·2 min read

A 65-year-old man in the Buffalo, New York, area faces charges after an 80-year-old man who had confronted him about not wearing a coronavirus face mask died following the dispute.

Donald Lewinski of West Seneca, New York, was arrested Monday and is to be arraigned Tuesday evening on a charge of criminally negligent homicide after he allegedly shoved Rocco Sapienza to the ground in a bar, authorities said.

Lewinski was walking through Pamp's Red Zone Bar & Grill in West Seneca, about 10 miles southeast of Buffalo, on Sept. 26, when Sapienza confronted him about not wearing a mask, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said at a news conference Monday.

Flynn said it appeared that the two men began to argue as soon as they crossed paths at the bar and not just over masks.

"Apparently, the victim didn't like the way the defendant was talking to some of the staff; also there was an incident beforehand that involved a young lady, and the victim didn't like the way the defendant spoke to the young lady," the prosecutor said. "These two were butting heads from minute one."

Eventually, the two had had a dispute over Lewinski's not wearing a mask, the district attorney said.

Security camera footage shows Sapienza "gets up from his bar stool. He walks around the corner; he confronts the gentleman who wasn't wearing his mask," Flynn said. "The defendant allegedly stood up from the bar stool and pushed him with two hands."

The "hard" shove pushed Sapienza to the ground, the district attorney said. He had a seizure, lost consciousness and died from "blunt force trauma to the head" days later.

Flynn noted that mask disputes are happening around the country.

"We see it everywhere, where people are confronting one another and having arguments about not wearing masks, and it's unfortunate that we have an incident here now in western New York where this escalated into a 80-year-old man passing away," Flynn said.

The West Seneca Police Department did not immediately respond to a NBC News request for comment.

Lewinski's attorney, Barry N. Covert, pointed to a statement he made to the Buffalo News that his client plans to plead not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday.

“It’s certainly a tragedy that Mr. Sapienza passed away," Covert said. "My client and his family want to express their best wishes and sympathy to the family of Mr. Sapienza.”

NBC News reached out to Sapienza's wife but did not receive an immediate response.