Upstate New York

Man Pleads Not Guilty in Death of 80-Year-Old After Mask Spat in NY Bar

Person wearing mask
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A New York bar patron accused of shoving an 80-year-old, who later died, during a confrontation about the need to wear a mask has pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide.

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

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

Sapienza was knocked unconscious and eventually died on Oct. 1, WIVB-TV reported. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, the district attorney said.

As a condition of his release, West Seneca Town Justice Shannon E. 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.

An attorney for Lewinski, Barry Covert, called Sapienza's death a tragedy in an email to The Associated Press, and added, “We received witness statements that make it very clear that the victim was the aggressor.”

“I have watched the bar videotape, and it does appear that Mr. Sapienza does come from a different part of the bar to initiate the confrontation with my client, who was at a different section of the bar," Covert said.

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

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