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Argument led to fatal Cheektowaga shooting

Thomas M. Szczesniak and Joseph Lawrence Jr. went out drinking together on Friday.

At about 7 p.m., the landlord and tenant – who had known each other for years – got into an argument in the driveway of Szczesniak’s Cheektowaga home.

According to Cheektowaga police, that’s when Szczesniak pulled out a silver handgun and shot Lawrence once in the stomach. But Szczesniak didn’t run.

When firefighters arrived at the house on Woodell Avenue, they saw Szczesniak standing over Lawrence, asking him if he was OK, police said. When officers got to the scene, Szczesniak raised his hands and told police he still had the gun on him.

“This was a good day gone bad,” said Cheektowaga Police Capt. Scott Pilat, who added that police have yet to determine what role, if any, alcohol may have played in the shooting.

Lawrence, 54, died in surgery at Erie County Medical Center.

Szczesniak, 53, faces a second-degree murder charge.

“My kids were home. They didn’t hear anything until the cops showed up,” said a neighbor, who asked not to be identified.

Szczesniak and Lawrence used to hang out in the garage behind the beige house, drinking beer, smoking and cooking on the grill, said the neighbor, adding that Lawrence moved into the upper apartment at Szczesniak’s home a few months ago, the neighbor said.

“Everything was fine, as far as I knew,” said the neighbor, who added that he was not home at the time of the shooting.

Szczesniak, who went by “Tom,” worked in the repair shop of an area car dealership. He was described as a “friendly guy” by the neighbor, who said they had known each other about 15 years.

The beige, two-story home on Woodell Avenue, just south of Straley Avenue, was where Szczesniak grew up. St. John Gualbert Catholic Church and Cheektowaga’s Alexander Community Center are nearby.

Part of the glass on the garage doors was covered with cardboard and duct tape. A Pennysaver in a blue bag dangled from the railing of the house’s front porch late Saturday afternoon.

Szczesniak said he had a gun safe in his attic and went hunting occasionally, according to the neighbor, who described his neighborhood as otherwise peaceful.

“It’s really, really shocking,” he said.

Szczesniak also was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

He was arraigned in Cheektowaga Town Court by Judge Timothy Dwan and is being held without bail. He is due back in court on Wednesday.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com