social media, true crime

Two guys walk into a bar…

I may catch some shit for writing today’s post, but this story is a good example as to why I think that sometimes the court of public opinion gets things very wrong. If you’re a regular reader, you may already know that I am not a fan of mob justice, particularly for people who armchair quarterback from home and have nothing to do with a specific case. I think that can have a devastating effect on justice and fairness, something that everyone should be entitled to, especially in the United States. Anyway, here goes… putting on my flame retardant suit now.

On Saturday, September 26, 2020, 65 year old Donald Lewinski and 80 year old Rocco Sapienza were both visiting Pamp’s Red Zone Bar and Grill in West Seneca, New York. Both men were said to be regulars at the establishment, although it’s not clear if they knew each other before their deadly meeting a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. Lewinski is now being charged with the negligent homicide of Mr. Sapienza. Why? Because Mr. Sapienza, who was said to be very friendly, but not one who was afraid to confront people he thought needed calling out, chastised Mr. Lewinski for not wearing a face mask. The headline about this incident in The New York Times is “80-Year-Old Is Killed After Asking Bar Patron to Wear Mask”. Naturally, people are responding to that headline with much vitriol toward Mr. Lewinski. Some are labeling him a cold blooded murderer and calling for him to spend much longer in prison than the four years he could face if he is convicted.

The headline implies that Mr. Sapienza simply asked Mr. Lewinksi to wear a mask, and he responded by viciously shoving him, intending to hurt, or even kill him. I was skeptical that this incident went down the way the headline implied. And, in fairness to the The New York Times, the actual article, which I am sure a lot of people didn’t bother to read, is a lot more impartial than the headline is. There are also other articles from reputable, but more local, sources available that present a very different perspective than what was reported in The New York Times. Having read several articles about this altercation, I have concluded that this is what really happened.

These two guys visited their favorite watering hole. Both are older men, probably a bit set in their ways and not interested in hearing other people’s opinions on how they should be behaving in public.

Mr. Lewinski’s son was playing music outside of the bar. The band was set up in the parking lot, and they happened to be playing in the parking spot that Mr. Sapienza usually used. This tidbit of information was not in the Times’ article, but it was in an article by Local 12, a news station in the West Seneca area. So… Mr. Sapienza was already annoyed that his parking spot was usurped by Lewinski’s son’s band. It’s unclear whether or not the band knew that was Sapienza’s parking spot, or if he was somehow officially entitled to park there.

The New York Times article also fails to mention that Mr. Lewinski did have a neck gaiter and though he did frequently forget to pull it up, perhaps because he was drinking or “caught up in the thrill”, according to his lawyer, Barry Covert, “when asked to put his mask on, [he] did so readily.”

Apparently, Lewinski kept coming in and out of the bar to fetch rounds of drinks. When he came into the bar, he repeatedly forgot to pull the gaiter up over his nose and mouth. Also according to Lewinski’s lawyer, “[Sapienza] was disgruntled that he could hear the music inside, and he was unhappy that my client and other people were bringing tables and chairs from inside the bar outside to the patrons who were enjoying the band out in the parking lot.”

Mr. Sapienza, who had reportedly served as a Marine and had a “boisterous” personality that would “fill up a room”, eventually decided that enough was enough. Sapienza was also said to be “protective” of the staff at Pamp’s Red Zone Bar and Grill and was well-liked at the establishment. I have a feeling that Sapienza might have thought of the bar as “his place” and it probably irritated him that Lewinski and his son’s band were upsetting the order of things.

According to video footage, Lewinski was speaking to the bar owner for a moment and Sapienza, donning a face mask, decided to take it upon himself to confront Mr. Lewinski about his failure to be diligent about wearing a mask. There was no audio to the video, but John J. Flynn, the Erie County district attorney, says that “out of the blue”, Mr. Lewinski two hand shoved Mr. Sapienza, who fell backwards. His left arm knocked over a bar stool as his head hit the floor. Sapienza immediately lost consciousness and suffered a seizure. He was taken to a hospital, where he underwent brain surgery and died several days later.

Lewinski, who supposedly had made “lewd” comments to the staff, immediately paid his bill and left right after Sapienza hit the floor. I can’t say I blame him for that, but maybe that was also the wrong thing to do.

In my opinion, this incident sounds like a terrible accident. It’s certainly not murder, although many outraged comments indicate that it is. I don’t believe that Donald Lewinski showed up at that bar intending to kill someone. He probably just wanted to have a good time, listen to his son play music and enjoy some adult beverages.

If Lewinski had tackled Mr. Sapienza and repeatedly beat him about the head and shoulders in a clear effort to kill him, that would be murder. There has to be deliberate intent to kill for a killing to be called murder. It sounds to me like Lewinski pushed the man to get him out of his face, and that was it. He clearly didn’t intend to kill him. Mr. Sapienza’s accident was simply the unfortunate result of their confrontation, which Sapienza initiated. I don’t think Lewinski needs to be put away for the rest of his life for that. Some people would even call what he did self-defense, although I’m not sure the situation called for self-defense. But again– they were in a bar and there were likely distorted perceptions at play caused by boozing.

Could Lewinski have been better about wearing a face mask? Sure. But consider that less than a year ago, no one was wearing masks in bars or socially distancing. Some people are having a harder time adjusting to this new requirement than others are. And while I’m not absolutely certain that the parties involved in this incident were drinking alcohol, I’m going to assume that they were. They were there for “hours”, and there’s no telling how much they drank before the altercation occurred. In fact, I would also wonder if alcohol could have had an effect on Mr. Sapienza’s body that exacerbated the effects of the blunt trauma to his head.

What really irritates me about this story is that many people who are commenting on it automatically attack Donald Lewinski’s character and call him a “murderer”. It’s akin to the people who call anyone not wearing a face mask a “murderer”. It’s ridiculous hyperbole and it doesn’t serve justice.

For the record, I agree that Lewinski was absolutely wrong to shove Mr. Sapienza, although I also think that Sapienza was wrong to confront Lewinski. It was not his place to enforce the mask requirement; it was the management’s duty.

Moreover, the fact that Mr. Sapienza was 80 years old is irrelevant. I don’t know how recent the photos of Sapienza are, but he doesn’t appear to be that old. In some pictures I’ve seen, he’s wearing a dapper looking suit and a big smile– yes, he looks like a very friendly, healthy, fun loving man. I would not have guessed Sapienza was 80, and I’m sure his age never occurred to Mr. Lewinski, either. It sounds to me like he acted impulsively– he’d been drinking and was already irritated with Sapienza, as the two had exchanged “terse words” prior to the shoving incident. It’s not unusual for people to react physically when someone invades their personal space, especially when there’s booze involved.

A screen grab from a news video about this incident. He looks pretty hale and hearty to me, but I don’t know how old this picture is. To read the comments on some of the news articles about this, Mr. Sapienza was a frail , little old man. I don’t think that’s necessarily so. He does look like a great guy, though. It’s sad that he died the way he did.

Obviously, both of these men were healthy enough to sit in a bar for hours, despite their “advanced ages”. But in the age of COVID-19, it’s probably not the best idea for anyone to be hanging out in a bar, especially men over the age of 50 who might have underlying health conditions. Alcohol is a social lubricant. It causes people to behave in ways they might not have otherwise and can distort a person’s perceptions of reality. Or, it causes them to magnify behaviors, which may or may not be good. If you’re an asshole naturally, and you drink booze, you’re probably going to be an even bigger asshole when you’re drunk. Believe me, I have seen and experienced it many times. I don’t know what kind of man Donald Lewinski is, but if he was drinking, it’s possible that his frame of mind might have been in the realm of asshole on September 26th. Or, maybe he just doesn’t know his own strength.

If you’re a senior citizen and you’re concerned enough about COVID-19 that you feel compelled to confront strangers about wearing face masks, it’s probably a wiser decision to stay home. I am sure that hanging out in his favorite watering hole was a comfort for Mr. Sapienza. Maybe it helped him feel more normal in these very weird pandemic days we’re experiencing. And maybe he felt emboldened to confront another man for not wearing a face mask, because that bar felt like “his place”. But, when it comes down to it, not everyone is going to see it that way. People are on edge and pissed off– tensions are high for a lot of reasons. It’s probably not the best idea to confront people who are breaking the rules, especially in a bar. Let someone in charge do it, for your own safety. Especially if you are “at an elevated risk” for COVID-19, as Mr. Sapienza would be simply due to his age and sex. But then, maybe Mr. Sapienza was also under the influence of booze and his natural instincts were similarly magnified.

I totally get that people are fed up with those who break the rules. I also get that people resent having to wear face masks. I hate them myself, but I do wear them when they are required. And because I hate the masks, I do my best to avoid having to wear them by staying away from other people. Instead of going to bars, I stay home and drink. It’s cheaper that way, and I get to pick the music. Bars are not safe places for those hoping to avoid COVID-19. I certainly don’t condone Lewinski’s decision to push Mr. Sapienza, inadvertently causing his death, but I also don’t condone Mr. Sapienza’s decision to put himself in harm’s way by being confrontational.

It’s too bad that the press is spinning this situation to be something it’s not. People are predictably reacting without reading much more than the headline or thinking critically. So many folks are commenting that Lewinski should go to prison for the rest of his life… calling him a hardened murderer because he shoved some guy for confronting him after they had already exchanged “terse words”. I wonder if they would feel the same way if they or someone they loved were involved in a similar situation. My guess is that most of them wouldn’t. But then, it’s always “a different story” when the story is about someone else.

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musings

Skinny jeans and scarves…

I read a funny story this morning on one of my favorite forums for English speakers in Germany. Back in 2015, someone posted about being confronted by an aggressive driver. The person was in the left lane, next to a bus, and another driver cut her off. She made a hand gesture at the aggressive driver– maybe not the middle finger per se, but perhaps a WTF gesture– and the aggressive driver then came up beside her and pointed to his phone, indicating that he was going to report her to the police for “insulting” him.

As I have written before, it’s against German law to insult people, particularly in traffic or when they are public officials. If you “shoot the bird” at someone, you can be hit with a heavy fine, particularly if there are witnesses or someone has a photo. Since everyone carries a camera these days on their cell phones, it’s probably pretty risky to let your fingers do the talking.

The thread died in 2015, but someone recently revived it with a story about being honked at in traffic and responding with the rude finger gesture. The person wanted to know which was worse, the insistent horn honking or the middle finger in response. Because, by the poster’s reasoning, the horn honker started it with the rude honking. My guess is that they’d probably both get in trouble if it was reported; but much to my surprise, an interesting discussion commenced. Here’s how the story went:

We were taking the kids to the dentist appointment. One of the kid was feeling unwell so my fiancee were sit with the kids on the back seat. When the big boy was feeling better my fiancee decided to change seat to the front, bcoz we had to go on a longer journey after and she has licence too so it’s better she sits at the front. So I pulled off to a side road where I stopped and turned on the emergency light until she was changing seat. Than an other car appeared at the back of our car and start to honk repeatedly and long. On the day I met some other drivers were really screw me up with stupid things and I was on the top when this thing happened. He could have just drive pass me but instead he honk unnecessarily. I felt really insulted so I showed my “stinkyfinger” up out the window. Just this week I recieved a letter from the police they want details who drove the car that time. 

Just as an aside… I think it’s funny that the middle finger is called the “Stinkefinger” here. Cuz why does it stink? Eeeeew!

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, Facebook was still kind of in its infancy. Consequently, this particular forum was more popular with American military types. Now that we have Facebook and other outlets for communication, that forum has less participation from Americans affiliated with the military. It’s more populated by Europeans who speak English. However, there are still a few folks working for Uncle Sam who hang out there. One of them got involved in this thread, and he has an appalling inability to use punctuation and capitalization. He wrote this:

This is what happens when you have a country of people which are entirely reliant on the government to solve their problems. 

Well… yeah, I guess I can see his point. I think it’s stupid that a person can be fined for flipping someone off or insulting another person. Especially since I don’t think that particular law gets enforced a lot. I mean, Bill and I have seen people use their middle fingers in traffic. Once or twice, it’s even been directed at us. Big fucking deal. Especially since Germans don’t seem to have any issues with dropping the F bomb. I guess cursing is only forbidden if it’s done in German. In any case, the guy above identified himself as an American who works for the military and has been to war a couple of times. He’s made a living out of fighting. My guess is that he votes for conservatives, too.

Then another poster, clearly one who is more in touch with the European mindset, wrote this:

The alternative been people getting out of the car and having a physical fight in order to “solve” the problem.

American guy came back with this:

This is an unpopular opinion im sure in a country full of emasculated men and millennials but what is so wrong with that? Someone drives around aggressively like an ahole and is at fault, risks other peoples safety and property and someone calls him out on it by beeping his horn. ahole gets mad and starts with the driver who called him out on it. Instead of both of them threatening to tell their mommy (the German government) about their petty squabbles; pull over and handle it like two grown men. Animals do it, kids do it, lots of people do it in other countries not full of guys wearing skinny jeans and scarves.

Im not saying it solves the problem but its a solution and I guarantee both people will remember it for years to come. You either dont drive like a dick cause someone will bust your head over it or you learn to mind your own business and not to honk at people because someone will put you in your place. Im not advocating they murder each other but sometimes pain solves problems more than monetary fines. If you make 100k a year, a 200 euro fine is not a learning lesson to anyone but if that guy wakes up sore every morning for a week and has to be embarrassed with his black eye in public that is way more effective than a ticket at changing behavior. 

At this point, I had to stop and laugh. I have seen a lot of German guys wearing skinny jeans and scarves, although they’re usually younger people. Most German men of a certain age are sensible enough to know when a certain fashion is “more for a younger person”. But then someone wrote this:

“…  in a country full of emasculated men and millennials …”

While I don’t disagree with your statement as a whole about people being too whiny about a honked horn or a middle finger waved in the air – this quoted part alone deserves an “ok, Boomer…”

This is more my experience with most German men…. I haven’t seen too many men wearing rhinestones on their skinny jeans.

American military guy writes:

Im only 35 but its hard to ignore the skinny jeans with attached rhinestones and scarves

Hmm… Now, I haven’t seen any men wearing bedazzled jeans with rhinestones. Where is this dude hanging out where he sees something like that? Because I would like to see it for myself! I have seen women with bedazzled jeans, but even that isn’t a common sight for me.

A few more people came along and took the American to task for embracing violence. He left a couple of snarky comments. Actually, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and I had a good laugh because I could practically hear him in my head. I’ve been around a lot of Americans like that– guys who think a knuckle sandwich and a handshake can solve any problem. It’s a fairly common attitude among people in the military. Like I said– they make their living fighting wars… or planning wars. Anyway, the more peace loving Europeans told the American guy that he shouldn’t be encouraging violence. He wrote this:

Look im not some violent psycho that solves every social issue with his fists and as someone whos been to war a couple times, I totally understand what violence can do; Im just saying that someone people earn a punch in the face and theres zero reason to run to the police and complain that someone gave you the finger and hurt your feelings. People need to be a little more self reliant and handle their issues alone without the governments help. If two people get into a road rage issue, pull over and figure it out like adults. 

Okay… so it’s best to solve road rage by beating the shit out of someone? That seems counterintuitive to me, responding to rage with physical violence. My guess is that I’m seeing a collision of cultural values here. In Europe, violence isn’t necessarily something that is embraced, probably because of how incredibly horrible World Wars I and II were. But in America, we have many cowboys who like to kick ass and embrace their inner animal with a good old fashioned fist fight. A lot of them take jobs in the military sector where it’s allowed to kick ass from time to time.

The woman who confronted the American guy continued to reject his assertion that physical fighting solves anything. American guy continued to protest:

No im saying be a self reliant adult and dont involve the government in every petty life issue. Something that very few people here do. 

I don’t necessarily disagree that people should handle their issues privately. In a perfect world, adults can come together and solve their problems without involving the government or physical violence. Unfortunately, as Bill and I have discovered, some people are just plain unreasonable and uncooperative. And, short of knocking the hell out of them, which most normal people would rather not do, sometimes it’s necessary to go to the government for a remedy. Now, that doesn’t mean I think that people should run to the police every time someone shoots the bird at them or calls them an asshole. That’s ridiculous. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into physical altercations with most people in most situations, tempting as it may be. Resorting to physical violence only means that the biggest, strongest, and toughest always get their way, and that’s not fair. Besides that, it’s just kind of stupid to beat people up over petty disagreements. Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch said it best…

Poor Peter… Buddy Hinton clocked him, and Mike found out that his father is an aggressive asshole, too. Well, if calm, cool reasoning doesn’t work, put up your dukes! Or, at least that was the moral on that particular episode of The Brady Bunch.

Although, if I recall correctly, Peter Brady did end up using his fists against Buddy Hinton, knocking out his teeth. And then they shook hands and became friends. Hmm… maybe that’s where the American military guy got the idea that sometimes might makes right. Or… as Kenny Rogers put it, “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.” But speaking for myself, I think it’s better to pursue a remedy without physical violence whenever possible. And I sure as hell don’t want to be clocking someone or being clocked on the side of the Autobahn.

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