An east Bronx supermarket worker and local sports coach who died a month after he was viciously punched died of natural causes, the city Medical Examiner’s office has ruled.
Detectives were awaiting the ruling to determine if an assault charge against the attacker would be upgraded to homicide.
Salvatore Zambuto, 40, was initially charged with felony assault after punching out Michael Cavallari, 32, an assistant manager at the Super Foodtown on Bruckner Blvd. and Crosby Avenue in Waterbury-LaSalle on Dec. 17, 2013.
Cavallari, who coached at the Throgs Neck Little League, was found dead in his Howard Beach, Queens home on Sunday, Jan. 5 of this year.
Detectives at the 45th Precinct squad had been checking regularly with the medical examiner. An initial autopsy was inconclusive, they said, and further toxicological screenings can take several weeks.
The final ruling came down recently, officially stating that Cavallari died of natural causes.
Medical Examiner’s spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said it was determined that the cause of death was “Myocarditis of Probable Viral Etiology.”
According the website WebMD, myocarditis is a disease marked by inflammation of the heart muscle, which often develops in people who are otherwise healthy, with a viral infection the most common cause of myocarditis – and death.
Police charged Zambuto punched Cavallari, 32, in the face, causing a broken right eye socket and broken right cheek bone, forcing him to undergo surgery to put “plates” in his face.
According to the criminal complaint, the 5-foot-10, 225 pound Zambuto “with a very large physique” was caught on video surveillance entering the store while placing black gloves on his hands, then seen punching the 5-foot-6, 140 pound Cavallari in the face.
While the cause of the attack remains unclear, one version has it as revenge for Zambuto’s girlfriend being recently fired from the market, while another goes that it was a case of mistaken identity after Zambuto was misdirected to Cavallari instead of the store manager after his wife was escorted out after allegedly being caught shoplifting.
Zambuto was arraigned on January 10 of this year in Bronx Criminal Court and released in his own custody. His next court appearance date is set for April 14.
Responding to the Medical Examiner’s ruling, Zambuto’s attorney, Murray Richman, said “We have continuously maintained our client’s total innocence of the underlying allegations. My heart goes out to the family, but Mr. Cavallari’s death was clearly unrelated to the events that occurred several weeks before.”
Cavallari’s family could not be reached for comment, but an east Bronx resident who knew him, said at the time of his death that even though Cavallari was not from the Bronx, he volunteered his time as a coach for the Throgs Neck Little League for three years, and also coached the TNLL All-Stars.
“He tried to get involved with the community,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified, “and that is what counts.”