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Mother Whose Son Died From Punch to the Head Sues Former Wake Forest Coach for Wrongful Death


A wrongful death complaint was filed in the New York Supreme Court of Queens County earlier this week by the mother of a Florida man who died after a punch to the head. During an altercation in Long Island City, then-Wake Forest assistant basketball coach, Jamill Jones, landed a fatal blow to Sandor Szabo. Donna Kent, the mother of Szabo and a resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Jones and Wake Forest University.

The complaint seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the death of Szabo, who was 35 at the time of the incident in August 2018. The wrongful death suit comes approximately two weeks after a judge sentenced Jones to probation, 1,500 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine for the assault. In February, Jones was charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, after a Queens jury found him guilty. He faced a maximum of one year in jail. Kent had reportedly made pleas to the District Attorney to charge Jones with a more serious crime. The Charlotte Observer reported that prosecutors expressed that they were “constrained by…New York state laws” related to the handling of “cases in which a punch leads to someone’s death.”

“Because of outdated New York law, the Queens District Attorney was only able to charge Jones with third-degree assault — a misdemeanor — for his fatal attack on Mr. Szabo,” John Pierce, Kent’s attorney, said in a statement. “Taking one’s life is not remedied with a misdemeanor charge. A civil action is now the only means to obtain justice for Mr. Szabo and his family who have suffered tremendously with his death.”

Jones claimed the punch was in self-defense, alleging that Szabo aggressively and repeatedly struck the window of the car he was driving while his fiancée was in the passenger seat. The wrongful death complaint alleges Jones left Szabo in the street “bleeding profusely and choking on his own blood” after the “cowardly attack.” The complaint also states that Jones “callously” fled the scene when he should have applied “his Wake Forest [first aid] training” as a basketball coach.

Szabo had reportedly traveled to New York from Florida to attend his step-sister’s wedding, while Jones — in his first year as an assistant basketball coach for Wake Forest at the time of the incident — was in was in the city specifically for work-related duties.

Szabo had reportedly been drinking at the wedding reception. Witnesses confirmed seeing him walking along the sidewalk and having difficulty keeping his balance, stumbling occasionally as he continued past. Following a wedding after-party, Szabo was waiting for a Lyft ride when Jones drove up in his BMW. The SUV stopped at the intersection, at which point Szabo allegedly approached the vehicle and, in a confused state, began banging on the window.

An altercation reportedly ensued, with Jones eventually exiting the vehicle and following Szabo on foot. Jones then struck Szabo once in the head. The blow knocked Jones to the pavement, where he landed unconscious. He was pronounced dead two days later, never regaining consciousness and only surviving on account of a life support machine. His organs were harvested prior to succumbing to his injuries.

In the wrongful death suit, Kent acknowledges that her son was intoxicated, but argues that, had Jones not ignored Szabo’s injury and fled the scene, his death could have been prevented.

The complaint includes claims for wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, and negligence against both Jones and Wake Forest University. Kent argues that the university is also responsible for her son’s death given that Jones was in New York on official business for the school when the incident occurred.

Jones reportedly flew back to North Carolina that same day (the incident occurring in the early morning hours), only to eventually return to Queens, turning himself into authorities several days later. He was subsequently placed on leave from Wake Forest, but resigned approximately eight months after the altercation.

Under New York’s “one-punch homicide law,” such fatal altercations are typically only chargeable as a misdemeanor, with prosecutors able to pursue a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Legislation to change the law has been attempted (New York Bill S3178A from the 2015-2016 legislative session), along with a Change.org petition a few years ago sponsored by the family of another victim who succumbed to injuries following a New York City altercation.

Donna Kent is represented by attorneys Robert J. Costello of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, and John M. Pierce & Andrew Calderón of Pierce Bainbridge PC.