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Erie County DA: West Seneca man dies over disagreement about wearing face mask

The Erie County District Attorney says Donald Lewinski, 65, of West Seneca is charged with criminally negligent homicide following an incident in a bar in September

WEST SENECA, N.Y. — A West Seneca man is dead and another man has been charged with criminally negligent homicide following an argument over wearing a face mask.

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn says Donald Lewinski, 65, of West Seneca has been charged with criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony, following the incident in a bar on September 26.

2 On Your Side's Claudine Ewing has learned that the man who died is Rocco Sapienza, 80.

Flynn says Lewinski and Sapienza were patrons in a Southwestern Boulevard bar while a band was playing live music.  

Flynn says Lewinski was allegedly walking through the bar without a mask, and Sapienza confronted Lewinski about it. They had a verbal confrontation, but separated. While Lewinski was drinking at the bar, Sapienza confronted him again. Flynn says surveillance video shows Lewinski stand up and shoved Sapienza with two hands.

Sapienza fell to the ground and suffered a seizure. He was unresponsive and was taken to ECMC. He never regained consciousness and died four days later.

Flynn believes this might be the first case in which a person died over a disagreement over not wearing a face mask. In separate statements however, both Flynn and the defendant's attorney Barry Covert agree that there could be additional factors that led to this fatal encounter.

"There are numerous witnesses saying and indicating that there were a number of grievances, not just mask only grievances," Covert said after Tuesday's arraignment.

Lewinski was arraigned in West Seneca Court Tuesday evening. Lewinski pleaded not guilty and was released without bail, but under a long list of conditions.

Those conditions include: staying 1,000 feet away from the victim's wife at all times, a no-contact order, a "gag order" when it comes to commenting on social media, and refraining from going to a bar or restaurant without court clearance.

Lewinski is set to return to court on November 17. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to four years in prison.

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