Sheffield men charged in assault tied to woman's fatal overdose

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The father and brother of a woman who died Monday of a heroin overdose are facing charges for allegedly attacking a man they say played a part in her death.

Ralph Lombardi, 58, and his son Michael Lombardi, 26, both of Sheffield, were arrested Monday outside their van on Baldwin Hill Road in Egremont, where officers found the elder Lombardi on top of the victim, hitting him, while his son held the man's arms, according to a police report.

Police say the motive for the attack was connected to the death of Christine Lombardi, 32, who died Monday in Rhode Island.

The Lombardis told police the man threatened them with a small folding knife after he entered their van for what they said was meant to be a conversation. The man told police he had been using the knife to slice an apple, which police say they found.

Police say the elder Lombardi had the man, who was struggling to breathe, in a chokehold at one point, and that both Lombardis were "screaming different versions of `You killed my [expletive] sister' and `You killed my [expletive] daughter.' "

The victim, who refused medical attention, had multiple facial injuries and what appeared to be ruptured blood vessels in his chest and eyes.

The Lombardis told officers that Christine died from a heroin overdose earlier that day and they believed, after looking at text messages on her phone, that the man helped her get the drugs, the report said. Michael Lombardi showed some of those text messages to police. The man has not been charged.

The Lombardis pleaded not guilty in Southern Berkshire District Court on Thursday on charges of kidnapping and assault and battery.

Judge Paul Vrabel released them on $500 bail, and told them to have no contact with the victim. A pretrial conference was set for Oct. 19.

Neither man has a criminal record, according to the court. And Lori Levinson, the Lombardis' attorney, told Vrabel that because Ralph Lombardi served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Valor Act Diversion Program might be considered in his case.

Levinson later told The Eagle a defendant can qualify for the program only if there are no prior run-ins with the law, and only if the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs finds them eligible. She said the program is tailored to the individual, has a treatment component and can help a defendant avoid prosecution.

In a phone call with The Eagle, Michael Lombardi read the following statement:

"Based on text messages we saw on Christine's phone, we pieced together that a longtime friend, a former addict from the Berkshires, had gotten in touch with his heroin connection in Rhode Island, who ultimately supplied Christine with the heroin that caused her death. We wanted to meet with [the man] to find out who the person in Rhode Island was so we could tell the appropriate authorities. And when [the man] got into our van with an open knife, things just escalated."

Levinson said the man lives in Rhode Island but was staying with his father in Egremont.

Christine Lombardi's death has sent a shock of grief across South County.

She attended both Mount Everett and Monument Regional High Schools, and went on to study art and graphic design at Champlain College.

According to her obituary, Lombardi worked at T4 Textile Factory in Sheffield for many years. She moved to California in 2015 to be near her brother Michael, "in pursuit of adventure and to start a new chapter of her life."

She loved the outdoors and soon settled in the Santa Cruz mountains. The obituary said she was a beloved, loyal friend with an accepting spirit.

"In addition to her friendships, she kept her family at the center of her heart," it said.

Calling hours are set for 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home in Great Barrington. A funeral Mass will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Joseph's Church in Canaan, Conn., followed by a burial ceremony at Our Lady of the Valley Cemetery in Sheffield.

The family asks that donations in her memory be made, through the funeral home, to The Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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