BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – William Sager, an Air National Guardsman who was injured at Mollys Pub, has died. He was 28.
On May 11, Sager was allegedly pushed down a narrow flight of stairs by bar manager 35-year-old Jeffrey Basil, who is currently charged with attempted murder and assault. Sager, who had just gotten engaged last summer, suffered a traumatic brain injury and remained in a coma at ECMC before passing away on Thursday.
Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita says Basil intended to cause Sager’s death by “launching” him down the stairs. With Sager’s passing, charges against Basil could now be upgraded to murder.
Francis Letro made a statement on behalf of the Sager family late Friday night, saying, “While the family and Erika have been preparing for this outcome, they spoke to him daily by his bedside hoping and praying for a miracle. Bill served his nation faithfully just as he was a faithful and loving son and fiancé.”
“There are no words to express the family, or Erika’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.”
Though Basil’s attorney Joel Daniels admitted in open court his client pushed Sager down the stairs, he argues this may just be a reckless situation.
“Well intoxication will be an issue in this case, I don’t want to get into it too much more than that, but when people are intoxicated, that may affect their intent. I think that will be something raised during the trial,” he said.
Witnesses have testified Basil was drunk and high the night Sager was hurt. Daniels appears to want to use that to show reasonable doubt that Basil did not intend to kill Sager.
Basil is also accused of physically removing a DVR unit that was connected to the bar’s video surveillance system and disposing of it.
He is currently out on $75,000 bail after pleading not guilty to attempted murder.
Prosecutors were unable to convince the judge to keep Basil behind bars, despite what they call a long history of criminal activity, beginning when Basil was 16-years-old at Maryvale High School.
Prosecutor Chris Belling said, “On June 11, 1996, he tried to throw another student out the window of the high school.”
Two off-duty Buffalo Police officers, Robert Eloff and Adam O’Shei, were working security at the bar the night Sager was injured.
O’Shei testified that he did not see Sager do anything to menace or threaten Basil before what he called “a full two-handed extension” push by Basil, sending Sager flying down the staircase.
O’Shei said, “[Basil] walked in and said, ‘I’m on a 24 hour bender.’ He said, ‘I’m all hopped up, I just took a couple of Xanax, boys we’re partying tonight.’”
Basil was convicted of drug charges in 2004 and was cleared to work in the bar in 2011 when a judge granted him a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities,” which removed all barriers to employment.
The off-duty officer said Basil tried to get him to take shots and other drinks. He admitted he went inside, while working security, to have a couple of drinks.
Although he turned away for a second, O’Shei said it was Basil who pushed Sager down the stairs around 2:00 a.m.
“I saw Mr. Basil shove Mr. Sager off the top landing and Mr. Sager flew down the stairwell, not hitting any of the stairs, landing at the bottom,” O’Shei said.
But Basil’s attorney says there is more to this story.
“This was a dispute in a tavern at 2:00 a.m. Both participants were intoxicated had some words and that’s how it ended,” Daniels said.
After being injured, O’Shei says he helped bring Sager outside as the guardsman bled from the nose. He says Basil came outside screaming that Sager tried to assault him and demanding Sager be arrested.
O’Shei said Eloff got a set of handcuffs from his car and cuffed the unconscious Sager.
“Finally, when Mr. Eloff comes back, I said, ‘Listen, take these cuffs off, he doesn’t need them on.’ He took them off shortly after, um, Buffalo Fire Department showed up. I stepped back and they started administering first aid,” O’Shei said.
When called to testify about the incident, Eloff pleaded the fifth amendment to each question.
Eloff was the subject of a News 4 investigation. A woman shooting a cell phone video says he smacked her phone out of her hand and stomped on it, after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Buffalo in March.
Both O’Shei and Eloff have been suspended without pay.
Mollys Pub was shut down by the city under an emergency order a few weeks after the incident, and the bar currently faces eight violations from the State Liquor Authority.
A benefit for Sager planned for August 3 at the Grand Island VFW will go forward as planned. Organizers say money raised will go to Sager’s family to help pay for medical expenses.
Sager’s friends have been very supportive. They have held vigils, sold t-shirts and bracelets to help Sager’s family, and use the hashtag #PrayforBill on social media to keep Sager in their thoughts.