LOCKPORT – A six-man brawl in a North Tonawanda parking lot, allegedly sparked by intoxication and a racial slur, led to the shooting death of a City of Tonawanda man, attorneys said in Monday’s opening statements in a Niagara County Court murder trial.
Dominick Cruz, 40, of Amherst Street, Buffalo, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Mark D. Sternin Jr., 25, and with attempted murder and first-degree assault in the shooting of Tyler P. Sadauskas, 24, of Middleport. It is the first murder case to go to trial in the county in more than a year.
The slaying occurred at about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 10 in a parking lot at Manhattan and Tremont streets in downtown North Tonawanda, where Sadauskas was celebrating his birthday with Sternin and another friend, Josh Foeller.
Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh told the 12-member jury that Cruz and two friends were losing the fight to Sternin, Sadauskas and Foeller. “Dominick Cruz wasn’t going to lose any fight he was in,” Wydysh said. “When he was losing a fight, he went and got that gun.”
Wydysh said a woman whom Cruz was out with that night, Amanda Ebling, is expected to testify that she had seen Cruz stash a gun in the air filter of his car earlier in the evening.
Wydysh didn’t tell the jury how the fight started, but Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer said that it began when one of the “birthday partyers” urinated against the side of Foeller’s car and that someone in Cruz’s car, which Wydysh said was parked two spaces away, objected to that because they had a woman with them. Privateer said one of the partyers replied with a dismissive obscenity tagged with a racial slur, and the fight was on.
In the fight, Cruz returned to the car bleeding from the mouth and told Ebling to “pop the hood,” Wydysh said. Ebling ran away instead and was hiding under a nearby vehicle when she heard two shots. Sternin, shot in the left chest by a round from a 9 mm handgun, died almost instantly. Sadauskas was shot in the abdomen and later underwent emergency surgery at Erie County Medical Center to remove “a couple of inches of his intestine,” Wydysh said.
The prosecutor said Cruz’s blood was found in the air filter and on the inside door of his car.
Cruz’s sneaker was left at the scene, Privateer contended that the loss of the sneaker “should give you some idea as to the nature and scope of the fight.”
The defense attorney said that all three partyers were bigger than Cruz and his friends.
Wydysh told the jury that Sternin, Sadauskas and Foeller had been drinking in various locations and using cocaine and marijuana; he said they were “hammered.” Privateer said, “They had been thrown out of every bar they were in.”
Privateer told the jury that Foeller talked to police that night and “repeated over and over and over again, ‘I just got my friends killed.’ You’re going to have to figure out what that means.”
After the fight, Cruz and two other men drove off, Wydysh said. Cruz eluded police who came to his workplace the next day. He was captured April 1 in Lancaster, Pa.