NY bar owner fleeing arrest on COVID rules violations hit deputy with car: Sheriff

Guy Pendlebury/iStockBy BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The co-owner of a New York City bar accused of flagrantly defying COVID-19 restrictions was taken into custody early Sunday when he allegedly hit a sheriff’s deputy with his car while attempting to flee his second arrest in less than a week for violating Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to blunt the spread of the deadly virus, officials said.

Danny Presti, the co-proprietor of Mac’s Public House on Staten Island, is accused of allegedly trying to drive off when sheriff’s deputies saw him emerge from the watering hole about 12:30 a.m. after allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions again by serving booze and food to patrons inside, according to New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito.

Fucito said the uniformed deputy chased Presti and clung onto the hood of his car as Presti hit the gas. Deputies managed to stop Presti after he drove about 100 yards, Fucito said.

The sheriff said the deputy who was struck by Presti’s car suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment.

The incident came six days after the sheriff’s office shut down the bar and arrested Presti for obstruction of justice following an undercover investigation in which plainclothes deputies were served drinks and food inside the establishment and observed numerous patrons doing the same, which was in violation of the restrictions Cuomo mandated to help fight a second-wave of the coronavirus, the sheriff said.

Mac’s Public House is located in an area deemed by Cuomo to be a virus-risky “orange zone” after the Staten Island positive-testing rate climbed to 4.15% last week. Under “orange zone” restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited and outdoor dining is restricted to tables of four customers or fewer.

Thumbing their noses at the emergency COVID-19 restrictions, Presti and Keith McAlarney declared their tavern an “autonomous zone.” In the YouTube video, Presti said that while he and McAlarney could no longer legally charge for alcoholic beverages due to their suspended liquor license, they decided to serve booze and food on the house. They asked patrons for donations to pay their bills.

Presti’s first arrest and the shuttering of the tavern sparked protests, including a demonstration outside the bar on Wednesday night that drew several hundred supporters of the bar owners who waved American flags and slammed the governor’s rules as a detriment to small businesses.

The crackdown followed a unanimous decision by the state Liquor Authority to suspend the bar’s liquor license for not abiding by the rules, a cease-and-desist order from the state Health Department, and fines of $1,000 a day from the Sheriff’s Department.

Presti could not be reached for comment on Sunday. His criminal defense lawyer did not return a call from ABC News seeking comment.

Despite the tough sanctions, the bar illegally reopened to patrons on Friday and Saturday, Lou Gelormino, the attorney for the pub, told New York ABC station WABC-TV. Gelormino said there were about 100 patrons inside the bar on Friday night, explaining people were seated at socially distanced tables.

Gelormino said the owners reopened the bar to honor their “brothers and sisters in the restaurant business” and to continue to stand up against rules they believe are arbitrary and unfair.

Fucito said his deputies returned to the bar on Saturday to investigate complaints it had reopened and found patrons being ushered inside through the back door they reached via a vacant building next door. He said when deputies arrived on Saturday, they found the windows of the bar covered with paper, but deputies observed some patrons inside without masks on and appearing to be consuming food and alcohol.

Charges against Presti were pending. He was expected to be arraigned on Sunday.

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