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Ruby had ‘refrain from’ order, but it didn’t protect her from her ex-boyfriend

Ruby Stiglmeier’s smile beamed like the sun, especially when she was on the job as a dental hygienist in the Orchard Park office of Dr. Kathy Kane.

“She was a beautiful woman,” said Kane, whose younger sister graduated with Stiglmeier from Orchard Park High School in 1982. “Her patients became her friends. She truly shared her life with them. Everyone loved Ruby.”

What few knew was that Stiglmeier was in a violent domestic relationship and had reached out for help from the court system, which issued a “refrain order” against her former boyfriend, David Lewczyk. But the order did not help her. Lewczyk killed Stiglmeier in her own home last month.

Orchard Park police believe Lewczyk, whom Stiglmeier had dated sporadically for two years, shot her three times before turning the gun on himself.

Friends and relatives gathered Saturday at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna to honor Stiglmeier at a Mass of Christian Burial. Stiglmeier’s mother, Monica Drogoszewski Mangine, died last June. Her father, Anthony Mangine, died in February.

Stiglmeier was married for almost 20 years to James Stiglmeier, Kane said. They were separated at the time of her death. It could not be determined whether the two were divorced.

“She was extremely generous,” Kane said. “Ruby didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket for any fundraiser.”

No one knows what sparked discord between Stiglmeier and Lewczyk, who shared a love of the outdoors. But one thing is certain: Stiglmeier was afraid of Lewczyk.

After an incident in December in which Lewczyk started a small fire in Stiglmeier’s garage and police were summoned to her ranch-style home off Big Tree Road in the Town of Orchard Park, Stiglmeier, 51, obtained an order of protection against Lewczyk.

Stiglmeier is one of the 4,000 people in this country who are killed each year by an intimate partner. Sadly, her story echoes those of other women who had obtained orders of protection yet still lost their lives.

An order of protection is a document that a judge issues to protect a person from harassment or abuse. There are two kinds: the first, a “stay away” order, prohibits all contact. The second is a “refrain from” order, which does not allow an individual to harass, stalk, annoy, assault or commit a crime against the party, but still allows the couple to be in each other’s presence.

Stiglmeier initially obtained a “stay away” order, but she later returned to court to request the less-restrictive “refrain from” order, which was in force at the time of her killing.

One local attorney who has specialized in family law for 23 years called the request part of the cycle of violence.

“They feel (they are) to blame and they feel sympathy for the perpetrator. They want to go easy,” said Randy Margulis. “Ninety percent of domestic violence is committed against women by men,” he added.

Whether a “refrain from” order works is up to the perpetrator, said Tiffany Szymanek, an attorney with the Family Justice Center.

“Is he someone with red flags?” Szymanek asked. “Did he strangle her in the past, threaten suicide? Does he have access to a gun? Even whether he is employed is a factor.”

Lewczyk, 53, was a resident of Panama in Chautauqua County who had recently quit a job he had held for more than 30 years as a craftsman with Ellison Bronze in Falconer, a company spokesman confirmed.

A 1981 graduate of Orchard Park High School and a father of two, Lewczyk described himself as a “family man” on his LinkedIn page. He also said he was a hunter and a motorcycle and kayak enthusiast.

“People who have an order of protection issued against them in the first place probably are not the most reasonable, rational (people),” Margulis said. “More people violate orders of protection from ignorance than malice because they don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions. Their emotional state is overtaking their reason.”

Lewczyk did have a valid pistol permit, Orchard Park police said. But it is not clear whether he had been ordered to surrender his firearms.

“Usually, if a judge sees a defendant has a pistol permit, he will order that firearms be surrendered,” said Lynette Reda, bureau chief of the Domestic Violence Unit for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. “In an abundance of caution, it would be prudent for the judge to do so.”

Reda went on to say that judges may have inaccurate information in front of them when making the decision. A domestic incident report, filed by police, is based on interviews at the scene with the victim and suspect. It may contain inaccuracies.

If the suspect is ordered to surrender firearms, there is no monitoring system in place to ensure the weapons are surrendered, said Margulis.

“It’s the honor system,” said Margulis. “In your typical run-of-the-mill Family Court case, there is no monitoring system. They can’t police it. They can’t go in every person’s home. For victims, it’s a very frustrating system.”

email jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com