William C. Sager Jr., the Air National Guardsman critically injured in an attack at Molly’s Pub on May 11, died Thursday afternoon.
Sager, who was 28 and had remained in Erie County Medical Center after suffering a devastating brain injury, died at around 4 p.m., his father said.
A statement issued late Thursday on behalf of the William Sager Sr. family said, “It is with extremely heavy hearts that they announce that Bill passed away earlier today.”
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III also told The Buffalo News that Sager had died.
Jeffrey J. Basil, the bar manager, has been accused of pushing Sager down stairs at the Main Street bar. He has been charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault, and at his last court appearance, a prosecutor said the case could become more serious.
Sedita said that once his office gets the official death certificate, the case will be presented to a new grand jury for possible further charges against Basil.
“This case is a minute away from becoming a murder case,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher J. Belling said at Basil’s arraignment July 25 on charges of second-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and tampering with evidence.
The prosecutor told State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang that if Sager died, Basil could face a life prison sentence.
There had been an outpouring of community sentiment for Sager when it was learned that he had been attacked even as two Buffalo police officers, providing off-duty security for Molly’s Pub, lingered nearby just before 2 a.m. on Mother’s Day.
The officers allegedly pulled the unconscious Sager outside the bar, even though he had suffered a serious fall, and for a time placed him in handcuffs.
The two officers, Robert E. Eloff and Adam E. O’Shei, remain suspended from the force.
Sager suffered a brain injury in the incident and had been in serious condition in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Erie County Medical Center since May 11.
Basil, 36, of Amherst, who had been out on $35,000 bail on the original first-degree assault charge, pleaded not guilty to the indictment filed July 25.
That indictment charged him with assault and the two new counts of attempted murder and tampering.
The judge raised his bail to $75,000, which he is expected to post today.
The State Liquor Authority has charged the bar’s licensee, Norman Habib of Eden, one of the principals of NHJB Inc., with eight violations of state liquor law and SLA rules, including five violations involving Basil and the May 11 assault.
It accused Habib of permitting the bar to become disorderly on that date, failing to list Basil on the license as a person with a financial interest in the bar dating to Jan. 8, and submitting false statements on the license application on funding for and/or investors in the bar by not listing Basil.
In raising Basil’s bail, Wolfgang cited the three-count indictment, including the new charges of attempted murder and tampering.
She said the attempted murder charge carries serious consequences if the defendant is convicted – a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
Belling had asked the judge to set bail at $500,000 in light of the new charges, which allege that Basil tried to kill Sager when he allegedly pushed him down the stairs.
Prosecutors also noted that, after pushing Sager, Basil went outside the bar and told an off-duty Buffalo police officer working security to arrest Sager, saying Sager assaulted him.
Belling also alleged that before Basil was arrested May 17 and charged in the case, he had a friend posing as a police officer call a witness and ask him what he was going to testify to.
During that same time period, Basil called some Buffalo police officers he knew to find out what was going to happen next in the case, the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor cited Basil’s criminal record, which includes drug and DWI convictions as well as a guilty plea to harassing the owner of a restaurant next to a Niagara Falls bar that Basil was managing in January 2013.
He added that Basil’s Amherst home is for sale and that he owns property in Florida.
Joel Daniels, Basil’s defense attorney, noted that at the May 23 felony hearing in City Court, O’Shei, who was working off-duty security outside the bar with Eloff, testified that both Basil and Sager were drunk and that Sager was swaying, stumbling and aggressively pushing his way through other people.
The defense attorney also cited a report by a Buffalo police captain who said O’Shei told him that Sager was very intoxicated and starting trouble at the bar; O’Shei has denied making that statement. The captain also testified that he saw Basil give Sager a two-handed shove down the stairs without any provocation.
Both O’Shei and Eloff – who refused to answer questions at the felony hearing, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination – have been suspended and face a hearing on departmental charges of acting in a manner unbecoming a police officer.
The Sager family statement said Thursday, “Bill served his nation faithfully just as he was a faithful and loving son and fiancé.
“There are no words to express the family and (his fiancé Erika Webster’s) sadness for this tremendous loss, nor are there enough words to express their gratitude to so many for prayers and words of comfort over these difficult weeks.
“At this time Erika and Bill’s family respectfully ask for privacy as they prepare Bill for his final journey where they know he will be given a hero’s welcome.”