Man Killed After Confronting Fellow New York Bar Patron For Not Wearing Mask

A man in New York state has been charged with criminally negligent homicide after allegedly shoving an 80-year-old man at a bar over a dispute about the suspect not wearing a face mask.

Donald Lewinski, 65, of West Seneca, was arrested in connection with the incident at the Pamp's Red Zone Bar and Grill in West Seneca on September 26 which left Rocco Sapienza dead.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said that Sapienza confronted Lewinski who was seen walking around the bar not wearing a mask to bring buckets of beer to a band playing outside.

During an argument, Lewinski is alleged to have shoved Sapienza "without warning," resulting in the victim falling back and hitting his head on the ground.

"The victim was not ready for the shove, he was not bracing himself for anything," Flynn said during a news conference.

Sapienza was unresponsive for four days at hospital before dying on September 30. An autopsy determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, reported The Buffalo News.

Flynn said that while there have been many examples of arguments or physical confrontations breaking out over the wearing of masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, this may be the first time someone has died over such a dispute in the country.

"You see it on airplanes. 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 prosecutor said that both the suspect and the victim were regulars at the bar, but are not believed to have known each other.

Flynn said that the pair may have been arguing about a different matter prior to the shoving incident, with Sapienza allegedly taking issue with how Lewinski was speaking to staff and a woman at the bar.

"I get the impression from witness statements that these two just didn't like one another. These two were butting heads from minute one there," Flynn said.

Lewinski's attorney, Barry Covert, said his client plans to plead not guilty when he appears in court on Tuesday.

"It's certainly a tragedy that Mr. Sapienza passed away," Covert told The Buffalo News. "My client and his family want to express their best wishes and sympathy to the family of Mr. Sapienza."

In a statement to WKBW, Pamp's Red Zone said: "We are all deeply saddened by the loss of Rocco. He was a part of our Red Zone family and loved by all. Our deepest sympathies go out to Rocco's family."

West Seneca Police has been contacted for comment.

A sign asking patrons to wear a face mask is seen outside a restaurant in midtown as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 9, 2020 in New York City. A man in New York state has been charged criminally negligent homicide after allegedly shoving an 80-year-old man at a bar over a dispute about him not wearing a face mask. Noam Galai/Getty