County Commits Funds To Study Of Proposed Arena; 6,200-Seat Arena In Worcester Pitched By Texas Firm

A facility similar to the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas is under consideration for northern Worcester County and being studied. Submitted Photo

SNOW HILL — While the project is merely conceptual at this point, Worcester County officials this week agreed to fund in part the further study of a potential 6,200-seat multi-purpose arena.

Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger on Tuesday presented the County Commissioners with a proposal from Texas-based Hat Trick Consultants about the possibility of developing a multi-purpose sports arena that could be home to a minor league hockey team and would host, for example, regional high school and college sports events, boxing matches, conventions, concerts, graduations and other events. Hat Trick has already conducted its own feasibility study for the proposed arena in Worcester with favorable results, and the next step in what would likely be a lengthy process would be a similar study conducted by the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which would be the state partner in the private-public partnership.

The MSA study would validate Hat Trick’s own study and would also review the impact of the project on surrounding MSA investments, including the Roland E. Powell Convention Center’s new Performing Arts Center, which just opened, and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, for example. Badger on Tuesday urged the commissioners to fund Worcester’s portion of the MSA study, and after considerable debate, the commissioners agreed to pony up its $12,000 portion.

The breakdown for the MSA study, estimated in a range of $15,000 to $20,000, would be 60 percent for the county and 40 percent for the state, although Hat Trick has agreed to contribute $5,000 toward the additional MSA study.

Badger told the commissioners Hat Trick contacted his department about the possibility of a 6,200-seat sports and multi-purpose arena last summer. With a minor league hockey franchise as its centerpiece, Hat Trick projects the arena to host as many as 125 events per year with over 400,000 attendees. Hat Trick projects the facility would support an additional 100 full-time jobs and would contribute a direct economic impact of $19 million per year to the county. Interestingly, Badger said Hat Trick, which has built similar arenas all over the country and is always looking for new locations, fixated on the greater Ocean City area after watching another significant event in the resort last summer.

“It’s interesting how they picked the Ocean City area,” he said. “They watched the Dew Tour on television and thought to themselves ‘oh my, what an opportunity.’ I would hope we would proceed at least with a study. They seem very legitimate and the idea has merit.”

Hat Trick envisions bringing a minor league hockey team to Worcester as the primary tenant for the new facility, likely a “AA” level team in a major developmental league for the NHL. Hat Trick currently owns the rights to the Brahmas hockey club, which will play in either the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) or the Central Hockey League (CHL), both of which play at the AA professional level.

Hat Trick projects a 6,200-seat arena that could be expanded to 8,000 seats for larger events. In addition, the venue would feature outdoor sports and athletics fields to host regional events, a business park and some retail elements. Of course, the potential location was a big question for the County Commissioners on Tuesday. Hat Trick’s presentation simply puts the arena complex location within the limits of Worcester County visible to a major interchange.

Clearly, the company is hoping to take advantage of the millions who visit the resort area, suggesting the location would be in the north end of Worcester. While it didn’t cite a particular location, Hat Trick is looking in the area where the existing infrastructure could support the facility, likely in the area of the Routes 50 and 113. However, some county commissioners winced at the idea of another “jewel” for the north end.

“We need another leg in Worcester County and we need to grow in all areas,” said Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who represents the Pocomoke area. “We can’t keep putting all of our eggs in one basket. We need something else on this end, and we need to focus on a little wide range. Nothing against Ocean City, I’m in full favor of a study, but let’s try to move something down this way.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City, said the north end was the likely landing spot for the potential facility because of the existing highway network and the proximity to the resort area.

“I don’t disagree with the need to make the county whole,” he said. “Probably the best location would be somewhere in the area of the Route 50 and Route 113 intersection. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but that’s what I would do. I’m just not sure Pocomoke and Snow Hill have the infrastructure to support this. I do think it’s a great idea though.”

Whatever potential location is chosen, Hat Trick certainly has an ambitious schedule in mind for the new facility. The company projects construction would start in the summer of 2015 with a targeted completion date of fall 2016, in time for the 2016-2017 hockey season. Of course, the project is merely conceptual and even completing the appropriate studies by this summer seems far-fetched, much less what will likely be an extensive process for zoning, permitting, public hearings, water and sewer considerations and myriad of other hurdles.

Commissioner Diana Purnell also questioned the possible location and asked Badger who had been involved in the initial conceptual meetings. Badger told the commissioners he had preliminary meetings with Hat Trick along with other stakeholders, including, among others, Realtor Peck Miller and Ocean City Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel.

“Everything is going north and nothing is coming south,” said Purnell. “You said they met with community stakeholders. What community stakeholders? We need to be up front about the budget. Do the study, but don’t put us on the hook for the full amount.”

The facility is expected to cost in the $40 million to $50 million range, which would be funded by a private-public partnership including Hat Trick, the state of Maryland and Worcester. Badger said the onus would be on Hat Trick to develop the facility with some investment from the state and county.

“It would have to be a public-private partnership, but Worcester County is not going to be the savior on the financial end,” he said. “We made it very clear from the beginning there would not be a big financial commitment from the county.”

In one of the lighter moments during the discussion, Purnell referenced the private company’s name.

“I know hat trick is a hockey term, but I don’t like any tricks when it comes to the county budget,” she said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino, who represents Ocean Pines, said he would like further exploratory meetings with Hat Trick before committing the county to the project and voiced some concern over the possible impact on traffic.

“I would like a presentation for the commissioners,” he said. “I’d really like to meet these folks. I’m not entirely comfortable with this. I have real concerns about traffic, particularly along Route 589 and Ocean Pines.”

Badger explained any future arena development would take traffic issues into consideration.

“Whatever happens, they would not take an existing traffic problem and make it worse,” he said. “They would be very careful with the location. As far as a presentation, they’re very anxious to move forward and I’m certain they’d be glad to meet with you.”

The discussion went back again to the location and consideration for a possible south end site.

“I’m reluctant to support this,” said Lockfaw. “I really think we need to consider the south end. The property would be much easier to acquire. We keep funding study after study, but we’re not seeing anything go to the south end.”

Commissioner Ted Elder made a pitch for a possible Snow Hill location.

“The Snow Hill area needs this more than the north end or even the south end,” he said. “The traffic situation in Snow Hill will be better when Route 113 is finished, the real estate situation is favorable and we might even have that excursion train coming by at some time in the future.”

In addition, the commissioners appeared bent on meeting the Hat Trick consultants in person before committing even to the MSA study, but Mitrecic said the information provided already was solid enough to commit the $12,000 to the MSA study.

“To make them fly up here might be overkill,” he said. “Everything you need to know at this point is in the packet.”

The commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the county’s $12,000 investment in the MSA study and agreed to invite the Hat Trick consultants for further meetings.



Worcester A Future Home For Minor League Ice Hockey Team? County, State To Study Possibility

Photo courtesy of HTC Consulting

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners have agreed to further study the possibility of building a 6,200-seat, indoor multi-purpose sports complex to support a minor league hockey team in the northern part of the county, among other activities, as well as an additional outdoor venue to support it.

Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger told the commissioners that last summer his department by contacted by Hat Trick Consultants of Grapevine, Texas “to discuss their interest in building a 6,200-seat arena outside of Ocean City to attract a minor league hockey franchise.”

According to paperwork, the proposed arena “would serve as a multipurpose facility, thereby attracting professional sports franchises, concerts, high school and/or college basketball teams, lacrosse tournaments, conventions, boxing matches, horseback riding events, business meetings and other sporting events.”

An arena study was conducted and projected 125 events a year with over 400,000 attendees and 100 full-time jobs. The commissioners received the study last summer as did the Maryland Stadium Authority.

With HTC conducted the early study at its own expense, Badger recommended the commissioners this week support a MSA study to confirm the HTC findings and review the impact of this facility on nearby facilities, like the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and the Wicomico Civic Center. Additionally, Badger asked the county to consider an outdoor complex to complement the indoor area, bolstering its partnership in the new Maryland Sports Marketing Alliance.

Total cost of the study is expected to be between $15,000 and $25,000.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the study with Commissioners Bud Church, Joe Mitrecic, Ted Elder and Jim Bunting in support and Commissioners Merrill Lockfaw, Diana Purnell and Chip Bertino against.

Full story to come.



Assateague Analyzing Feces To Determine Mares’ Future Pregnancies

Photo courtesy Assateague Island Alliance

ASSATEAGUE — While it certainly isn’t the most glamorous aspect of managing the famed wild horses on Assateague, a biological technician is spending much of November conducting pregnancy tests on many of the mares on the barrier island in an attempt to predict how many if any new foals will join the herd in the coming year.

Assateague Island biological technician Allison Turner has been following as many as 29 mares in the population of wild horses on the barrier island waiting for them to defecate. The samples are collected, frozen and sent to a lab to be analyzed to determine if any of the mares will be expecting next spring.

There could be one or two new foals next spring, or as many as five or six, or possibly even zero. For two decades or more, Turner has been carefully monitoring the birthing habits of the island’s most famed residents and the information, more specifically the fecal matter, she collects this month will help tell the story for the next year.

“Although it is highly unlikely that all will be pregnant, 29 mares need to be tested, which involves locating and following each horse until she does her business,” said Assateague Island Alliance (AIA) Public Outreach Coordinator Ashlie Kozlowski this week. “Then a sample needs to be collected quickly before becoming decontaminated by another horse. The results aren’t determined by one or two pink lines within five minutes, but rather after being sent to a lab to be analyzed. We’ll have to wait until the end of January to find out which, if any, mares are expected to foal.”

Kozlowski said the pregnancy test process for the mares on Assateague is fairly primitive, but effective.

“There’s really not much scientific about it,” she said. “Allison knows the Maryland herd by their alpha-numeric names and their markings and she simply follows them until they do their business. There are 29 mares she is tracking to collect samples from.”

What is fairly scientific, however, is the complex contraceptive program administered on the wild horses on Assateague put in place several years ago to effectively reduce and manage the size of the herd. In the interest of managing the herd size, which, if left unchecked would overtake the barrier island and gobble up the very natural resources the animals need to survive, the National Park Service several years ago began an contraceptive program for the mares in the herd.

Selected mares are injected with a non-invasive contraceptive called PZP in an effort to prevent multiple births by the same mare in an effort to maintain and shrink the size of the herd to its manageable threshold. Assateague’s contraceptive program has become the model for wild horse and other animal management programs around the country.

As recently as just a few years ago, the size of the wild horse population on Assateague had swelled to around 140. Two new foals were birthed on the barrier island last year, which has been the trend in recent years.

“The trend recently has been one or two new foals a year, but it’s kind of a moving target,” said Kozlowski this week. “In previous years, there have been as many as five or six. That’s why we do these collections and testing now, so we know what to expect in the spring.”

In a typical year, the size of the population remains relatively constant with one or two new foals being born and older horses lost to attrition, old age, illness or other man-made or natural causes. From a high of about 140 just a few years ago, the number of wild horses on Assateague currently stands at an even 100, which is in the ideal target range of 80-100 for the barrier island.

“The goal has always been reducing the size of the herd, but now we’re at the adaptive management stage with a population of 100,” said Kozlowski. “We’ve gone from trying to reduce the size of the herd to holding steady around that 100 mark.”

Kozlowski said similar fecal collections and pregnancy tests conducted last winter resulted in only eight mares being administered, or “darted,” with the PZP contraceptive.

She said the number of mares treated each spring changes based on the test results.

“For example, if any of the mares we’re testing right now come back positive, they won’t be darted in the spring,” she said. “We only darted eight last spring and that is a relatively low number. After they birth one foal, they’re typically placed on the contraceptive. That allows us to stabilize and maintain the population, and it’s also healthy for the mares because of the strain of multiple births.”

Local residents and visitors will have the opportunity this weekend to find out more about the history of the famed Assateague horses and the contraceptive program. Author and photographer Jayne Silberman will be on hand at the visitor center on Saturday to sign copies of her book “Inside the Herd,” a photographic journey with the island’s wild horses.

The book signing will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the visitor’s center. In addition, Assateague Island National Seashore Science Communicator Kelly Taylor will make a presentation about the wild horses at 11 a.m. at the visitor’s center.

Turtle West Sold Million Dollar Lotto Ticket To Local Man, But State Still Waiting To Hear From Him

1 lotto

WEST OCEAN CITY — While the winner’s identity has not been made public, the Greene Turtle in West Ocean City last weekend sold a Maryland Lottery Monopoly Millionaire’s Club winning ticket to a local man who has not come forward to collect as of Thursday.

The new multi-state draw game’s top prize of $21 million was won by a player in New Jersey, which triggered a total of 14, $1 million prizes around the country. The Maryland Lottery last weekend announced one of the $1 million Monopoly Millionaire’s Club winning tickets had been sold at the Greene Turtle in West Ocean City, touching off some intrigue around the rather close knit community about the possible winner and the likelihood it was a local given the time of year and the location.

When Greene Turtle staffers were informed the establishment had sold a $1 million winning ticket, they checked the daily sales log and found that only five of the tickets had been sold in advance of the drawing last Friday. Three of the tickets were sold to employees and each confirmed it was neither of them. A fourth ticket was sold to another Greene Turtle denizen who also confirmed she had not won the $1 million prize.

That left just one ticket unaccounted for and it was determined through some investigation that it was likely sold to a local man and frequent player. The unidentified winner came into the Greene Turtle earlier this week and asked why he had been receiving odd text messages and phone calls from unrecognizable numbers. When informed he was possibly the winner of the $1 million prize, he reportedly left abruptly and went to double check his Millionaire’s Club ticket.

The winner had reportedly checked the larger top prize sequence of numbers and determined he did not have the winning numbers. However, the ticket includes a second series of numbers and an icon from the Monopoly game in a smaller font size for the $1 million secondary prize that the winner had not checked.

It was later confirmed the local man, who is not being identified until he notifies the state, had indeed won the $1 million prize, although as of late this week he was remaining decidedly mum about his windfall. Maryland Lottery officials on Thursday confirmed the West Ocean City winner had not yet come forward to claim his prize. The winner has 182 days to claim the prize at Maryland Lottery headquarters in Baltimore. The Greene Turtle West, which sold the winning ticket, will receive a $1,000 bonus from the Maryland Lottery.

Meanwhile, state lottery officials were pleased a Marylander had claimed one of the multi-state Monopoly Millionaire’s Club prizes.

“We’re pleased to have one of the first Monopoly Millionaire’s Club members in the nation,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director Stephen Martino this week. “This is an exciting addition to our game lineup that we hope will attract new players and be enjoyed by our current players.”

The Monopoly Millionaire’s Club game went on sale on Oct. 19 and its unique play style features three ways to win $1 million. Players can win the top prize capped at $25 million. Once that top prize is won, a separate drawing that awards a minimum of 10 Millionaire’s Club prizes of $1 million each is conducted. Each week the top prize is not won, the number of $1 million prizes increases. The drawings are held each Friday at 11:15 p.m. and the tickets are $5 each.

Players also have a shot at a $1 million prize on the upcoming national primetime Monopoly Millionaire’s Club television show the debuts in February. The show will feature an audience of players who are randomly selected after completing Monopoly-themed property sets by entering the codes on their tickets. Selected players will be flown to Las Vegas where the show will be taped and will receive a five-day, four-night stay for two plus spending money.

Veterans Day Observed At County Memorial

Photo by Shawn Soper

backdrop of an overcast November morning highlighted by autumn foliage in all its glory, a brief but somber ceremony was held to commemorate Veterans Day at the Worcester County Veteran’s Memorial in Ocean Pines on Tuesday.

Originally called Armistice Day following World War I to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year when the terms of surrender were reached with Germany on Nov. 11, 1918, the solemn holiday has been known as Veterans Day since 1954. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors the service men and women who died in the service of their country, Veterans Day honors all service men and women from all of the nation’s conflicts and at peacetime.

Appropriately, Veterans Day was recognized at the Worcester County Veterans Memorial in Ocean Pines for the 11th time on Tuesday. The event included solemn speeches, patriotic songs, the laying of a wreath, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps at the close. Veterans Day Committee member Arlene Page emceed the event and explained while the ceremony was intended to honor the service men and women from all of the nation’s wars and at peacetime, special attention was given this year to the veterans of the Iraq war. American Legion Chaplain Bernie Michels provided the invocation.

The Stephen Decatur NJROTC presented the colors near the start of the event and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Commander Timaree Sparks of the Ocean City Coast Guard Station. The National Anthem was led by the Delmarva Chorus, which later sang the anthems of each branch of service. Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. James Williams provided an address recognizing the many soldiers from Maryland who had earned the Medal of Honor over the years, including heroic stories of many of them giving their last measure of devotion.

One of the more poignant parts of the ceremony recognized the many POWs and MIAs. A simple table adorned with a stark white table cloth and a place-setting for one sat near the Veterans Memorial and one by one members of the American Legion including many from American Legion Post 166 in Ocean City added an important element each with a particular meaning.

American Legion Post 166 Commander Sarge Garlitz narrated the proceedings and explained the significance of each step in the process. For example, the small table represented the frailty of prisoners, and the white table cloth represented the purity of thoughts. A single red rose was placed on the table as a reminder of the blood they might have shed, and a slice of lemon symbolized their bitter fate.

Salt was shaken on the table to represent the tears of waiting families. A glass turned upside down was a reminder of their absence and an empty chair was placed at the table, also representing their absence. Finally, a lighted candle was placed at the table symbolizing hope, and American flag was placed as a reminder that many may never return.

Following the empty table ceremony, officers from Coast Guard Station Ocean City placed a wreath at the base of the American flag in the center of the Veterans Memorial. Following some brief closing remarks and a benediction by Page, members of the American Legion Synepuxent Post 166 fired a rifle volley that created another of the more memorable elements of the ceremony. As the rifle shots echoed across the Veterans Memorial plaza, hundreds of startled birds who had been peacefully bobbing on the pond suddenly took flight. Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Erwin closed the ceremony with Taps played from his bugle as the hundreds who had gathered solemnly walked away.


Witnesses Recount Night’s Events Leading Up To Reported Homicide

A screenshot of the Plim Plaza Hotel's surveillance video shows emergency responders tending to Justin Cancelliere.

OCEAN CITY — Witness statements in the manslaughter case against two men appear to raise more questions this week on what specifically caused the death of a Pennsylvania man in Ocean City.

Around 3 a.m. on Aug. 24, Ocean City Police and Emergency Services responded to 2nd Street for a reported assault that had already occurred. Upon arrival, officers found the victim, later identified as Justin D. Cancelliere, 37, of North Whitehall, Pa., unconscious and unresponsive. He later died. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the nature of Cancelliere’s injuries as head and neck trauma and the cause of death a homicide.

After an investigation, OCPD detectives determined the assault occurred during an altercation in the area of Talbot Street and Baltimore Ave. Two suspects, identified as Caleb Edwin-Earl Ochse, 27, of Ocean City, and Christopher Blake Kendall, 22, of Ocean City, have been charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, affray, disorderly conduct and alcoholic beverage-did endanger for their alleged roles in the confrontation.

Surveillance videos obtained by The Dispatch show what appears to be an initial contact between the defendants and the victim and his party, including a cousin and three other friends, at Fat Daddy’s restaurant and ends with Cancelliere and his group following Ochse and Kendall out of the restaurant. A second surveillance video shows the victim apparently still unconscious being removed from a taxi at the hotel parking lot on 2nd Street and OCPD officers and paramedics arriving on the scene and treating Cancelliere before taking him to AGH where he was ultimately pronounced deceased.

While the two videos paint a bookend picture of what happened on either end of the fatal confrontation, what occurred in between has been largely vague. However, official testimony provided to detectives from the victim’s cousin and friends, the taxi driver and others in and around the scene made public by the Ochse family have started to fill in some of the gaps in the incident’s timeline.

The victim’s cousin, Scott Cancelliere, and his two other friends, Kyle Lockwitch and Brian Colon, each describe a day of drinking in the resort culminating with an early morning food stop at Fat Daddy’s. The witnesses told police about the events leading up to the confrontation, but neither of them reported seeing firsthand the actual fight.

“We went up the sidewalk on the left of the road to the bayside of the street,” Scott Cancelliere told police in his statement. “We had passed the other group that previously left Fat Daddy’s. As we passed, words were exchanged. I am unsure of who or what was said. I continued walking up the street and a scuffle broke out behind me and on the other side of the street at the intersection. The scuffle was going on, and I went across the street to break it up and continue on our way.”

Scott Cancelliere said when he retreated back to the area of the scuffle, his cousin, Justin Cancelliere, was already in the street.

“When I got across the street, there was two or maybe three people in a pile,” he said. “We rolled him over and pulled him toward the sidewalk. We tried to wake him up, figured he had been knocked unconscious. He didn’t get up, so someone hailed a cab. We loaded Justin in and [name redacted] into the cab. I walked back to the hotel. When we arrived, [name redacted] was on the ground holding Justin up. It was shortly after that someone got [name redacted] up and he came down as well. When [name redacted] was there, we all decided it was time to call 911. We did so and an ambulance and police arrived minutes later.”

Lockwitch also described a day of drinking that ended with the late night stop at the restaurant. While he didn’t describe the defendants, Lockwitch said at least one of them was causing a disturbance in the restaurant. Again, Lockwitch did not witness the later altercation and was uncertain how the victim ended up in the street.

“One guy was very drunk and loud, getting up and making everyone including the owner mad and upset,” he said. “The owner and manager told him to leave and we left right after them. They were loud and drunk on the street and said something to Justin. Justin took off after them both, we [Kyle, Scott and Brian] ran after him. By the time we caught him about a half block down the road, he was on the street. We don’t know if he was hit or he fell.”

Lockwitch described arriving at the scene after the altercation and what occurred next.

“We all ran up and he was making a gurgling sound,” he said. “We called a cab to get him out of the street. We put him in a cab. I stayed with him in the cab. We got to the hotel and pulled him out of the cab and I sat with him in the parking lot. Nate told people to call 911. They showed up five minutes later.”


‘Drinking All Day, Not In The Best Shape’

For his part, Colon provided police with a rather disjointed version of what happened, but again told detectives he did not witness the altercation.

“We left, commotion in the street, found friend on the ground,” he said. “Went back to the hotel, some walked, some took a cab I think. Got to the hotel, called 911 because he wasn’t responsive. Again, drinking all day, not in the best shape.”

When asked if he saw a fight, Lockwitch replied, “No, I was behind the group.”

When asked to describe the commotion, Lockwith told detectives, “people getting in cabs, younger people crossing streets, guys calling out at girls, going home for the night, laughing, seemed like a mix, leaving bars.”

Another witness, a foreign student living in downtown Ocean City for the summer, described for detectives the incident in the street as he recalled it from watching from a nearby balcony. The witness described what is likely a nightly occurrence in the early morning hours in downtown Ocean City in the summer with intoxicated people walking around and yelling to other people on balconies or to no one in particular with nothing typically coming of it.

“I thought this was something similar and keep looking at them and they start throwing punches at each other but they couldn’t hit each other at first because they were too drunk,” the witness told police. “Then they separate them, the other guys and girls separate them, and they walked down the street. They start fighting again and the one guy gets knocked down and two or three guys start hitting him while he was on the floor and he was beaten down at the floor. He was get unconscious after the first punch I think because he couldn’t cover himself while he was on the ground. I mean, he just fell down like he was dead or passed out.”

When the interviewer asked the witness why he thought that, the witness replied, “because if he was still awake, he’d try to cover himself or try to wake up, but he didn’t do anything.”


‘I Just See The Guys Hitting Him…’

When asked what happened from that point, the witness told police, “they were hitting him while he was on the floor, like three or four times maybe, maybe more. I didn’t see it because three of them were just in front of me. I just see the guys hitting him, but I’m not sure how many times they hit.”

It’s important to note this witness watched from his residence and admitted his view was often blocked by others who had gathered in the area. For example, when asked how many men were hitting the victim, the witness said two or three. When asked to describe the assailants, the witness could not describe them, only stating he believed they were white and they looked like Americans.

In addition, when asked to recall if anyone tried to break up the fight, the witness told police, “I can’t remember it now because I was looking at it from my window and it was dark, so I don’t know who else tried to separate them or they just start beating them after. I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

However, the witness did tell police he wasn’t certain, but thought the victim was rendered unconscious from a punch.

“One guy throw a punch, his face, I think, I guess, and I don’t know if he was too drunk and fell like that or unconscious, or is he really unconscious, but I think he’s unconscious because if he was awake, he would try to cover himself or try to get up or try to punch them. He couldn’t do anything.”

Testimony from the taxi driver who picked up the victim and at least one of the friends and an unknown female lends little information about the actual altercation, but confirms much of what happened after it.

“I saw people on the side,” he said. “I pulled to the side. The girl came over and asked for a ride. I agreed. The guys helped the unconscious guy. Two guys, I think, helped him to the taxi. One guy got in with the unconscious guy. I took him to the Plim Plaza and dropped him. The guy took him out. Two of his friends came to the Plim Plaza. They paid me $100 for messing up the car and the ride. I left with one guy and the girl. I took the guy to 118th Street to Pizza Tugos and the girl to Old Bridge Road. When they grabbed him to put him in the taxi, the blood from his nose contacted the back seat of the car.”

Ochse’s parents have been vocal about the case and how they feel their son is being wrongly charged. So much so they have set up a website that provides links to witness statements as well as photos and videos.

The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office has been decidedly mum on the incident and has said it is ethically and professionally bound from making statements or providing evidence during an active case.

Meanwhile, the cases against Ochse and Kendall are moving through the discovery phase and the State’s Attorney’s Office has provided much of its evidence to the defense teams. The trials for both defendants are tentatively set in for Jan. 7.




UPDATE: Self Defense Alleged In OC’s Weekend Fatality; State’s Increased Bail Request Denied

SNOW HILL — Less than 24 hours after the arrest of two local men for their alleged role in the death of a Pennsylvania man found unconscious in a downtown hotel parking lot early Sunday morning, one of the suspects had his bond set at $400,000 during a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, and the groundwork for a self-defense approach has already been laid out.

Around 3 a.m. on Sunday, Ocean City police officers responded to the parking lot of a hotel on 2nd Street to assist Ocean City EMS with an assault that had already occurred. Upon arrival, OCPD officers found the victim, later identified as Justin D. Cancelliere, 37, of North Whitehall, Pa., unconscious and unresponsive. First responders from the OCPD and the Ocean City Fire Department initiated emergency lifesaving procedures on the victim and transported him to AGH where he was later pronounced deceased. An autopsy was performed on Monday, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore has ruled the nature of Cancelliere’s injuries as head and neck trauma and the cause of death a homicide.

After an investigation, OCPD detectives determined the assault occurred during an altercation in the area of Talbot Street and Baltimore Ave. The two suspects, identified as Caleb Edwin-Earl Ochse, 27, of Ocean City, and Christopher Blake Kendall, 22, of Ocean City, had entered the Fat Daddy’s restaurant around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday and ordered food.

Cancelliere entered the restaurant a short time later, followed by three other men including his cousin. During the two groups’ time in the restaurant, Cancelliere allegedy stared at Ocshe and Kendall, who did not know the victim and his group. Ochse and Kendall then left the restaurant and Cancelliere and his group followed closely behind. About a block away, a physical altercation occurred between the two suspects and Cancelliere and his group, all of whom were allegedly significantly larger in stature than the suspects.

According to police reports, the physical altercation turned violent with Cancelliere on the ground and the two suspects beating him. What has not been made public, however, is how the two smaller suspects were able to inflict significant injuries on the larger man who was with three other men.

After the physical confrontation, Cancilliere’s cousin and friends were able to get him into a taxi, which took them to the Plim Plaza Hotel a few blocks away where they were staying. Inexplicably, the group did not call 911 until getting back to the hotel parking lot. In fact, it is not certain if Cancilliere’s group called 911 or if the call for Emergency Services came from an unattached third party or witness.

There are unconfirmed reports that EMS was called first and then first responders called the OCPD. Ocean City Police and EMS arrived on the scene and after initiating emergency lifesaving measures transported Cancelliere to AGH where he was pronounced dead shortly before 7 a.m.

On Tuesday, Ocean City police arrested Ochse and Kendall, charging them with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and affray. Ochse was arrested at the West Ocean City seafood restaurant where he works, while Kendall turned himself in at the Public Safety Building a few hours later. Both had hearings before a District Court Commissioner late Tuesday. Ochse had his initial bond set at $400,000, while Kendall was released on his own recognizance.

Ochse had a formal bond review hearing in District Court in Snow Hill on Wednesday in front of Judge Gerald Purnell. His attorney, Frank Benvenuto, argued for a reduction in the bond, citing his client’s local roots and family history in the resort area.

“We’re going to ask for the bond to be lowered,” he said. “He’s 27 years old, a Stephen Decatur graduate, and a resident of Worcester County. His grandfather owns the Kite Loft and his father owns Atlantic Bikes. He is not a flight risk because he has high ties to the community.”

However, Purnell admonished Benvenuto somewhat for only pointing out flight risk out of a list of at least eight factors in determining a bond amount.

“Out of eight things, you only cited on thing,” he said. “There is more to a bond review than flight risk. A lot of this has to do with the nature of the crime. I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Worcester County Executive Assistant State’s Attorney William McDermott represented the state at Ochse’s bond review hearing on Wednesday, just as he did for the preliminary hearing with the District Court Commissioner on Tuesday night when the bond was initially set at $400,000. McDermott said some overnight research into Ochse’s past revealed reasons for not reducing the bond amount but instead increasing it.

“I was at the District Court Commissioner hearing last night and new information has come to light since,” he said. “The state is asking for an increase in the bond.”

McDermott aired a laundry list of Ochse’s arrest record, including multiple assault and disorderly conduct arrests. He pointed to a 2012 disorderly conduct arrest during which Ochse got into a fight with out-of-towners in Ocean City and another particular incident during which the defendant came upon an OCPD officer affecting a DUI arrest and threw a concrete brick through the officer’s patrol car window. In another incident when Ochse was a juvenile, he stole a hat from a woman’s head on the Boardwalk and when she attempted to get it back, he allegedly punched her in the face.

Most recently, in February, he was arrested in Orlando, Fla. when he was discovered attempting to board a Greyhound bus with 60 grams of methamphetamines, or “bath salts,” on his person. According to Orlando police, Ochse had been visiting a friend in Miami and planned to take the bus from South Florida to Panama City Beach.

While McDermott pointed out Ochse’s various adult arrests and convictions, he also said the defendant had an extensive record with the Department of Juvenile Services.

“His juvenile record looks more like a yearbook because there are so many mug shots in there,” he said. “It’s true he has strong ties to the community, but most of those ties have been with law enforcement.”

It’s important to note the victim has his own prior criminal history dating back several years, although the nature of the charges and the outcomes of the cases are not fully known at this time.

McDermott said despite Ochse’s prior record, flight risk alone could be considered as a determining factor in setting the bond. He pointed to the February arrest in Florida, for which Ochse may or may not have a warrant, and an earlier case in District Court during which Ochse sent a letter to the court with a P.O. Box in Puerto Rico as the return address.

“The OCPD knows him on sight because of his past run-ins with them,” he said. “He beat a man on the ground unconscious and that man is now no longer with us because of his actions. For that reason, I’m asking the bond to be increased from $400,000 to $1 million.”

Benvenuto said video surveillance captured from Fat Daddy’s clearly shows the victim and three others including his cousin as the aggressors in the altercation. He again pointed to Ochse’s ties to the community as a reason for lowering the bond.

“Four gentlemen went out of Fat Daddy’s and confronted him,” he said. “The video shows that.”

For his part, Purnell acknowledged Ochse’s family history in the area, but was not inclined to reduce the bond, nor raise it as the state requested.

“I’m very familiar with Caleb since I had him in drug court,” he said. “I have known his family for years and it’s an outstanding family. I’m not going to go along with the state and increase the bond, but I am going to set it at $400,000.

While the state relied heavily on Ochse’s prior record during the bond hearing, it remains to be seen how much of his criminal history will be able to be used during the eventual trial. Generally speaking, prior arrests and convictions are not admissible in court proceedings unless there is a nexus between the past crimes and the case at hand. For example, if a particular feature in a prior case was apparent in a current case, that might be admissible. An attorney familiar with this case has said “that those types of charges will not be evidence at any trial.”

Meanwhile, the Ochse family, through their attorneys, on Wednesday issued a statement expressing their sympathies to the victim’s family while outlining one version of the facts of the case, supported by video surveillance tape captured at Fat Daddy’s.

“As lifelong residents and business owners in Worcester County, the family of Caleb Ochse would like to thank the community for their support,” the statement reads. “We also extend our sympathy to the family of Justin Cancelliere.”

The statement suggests there might be a rush to judgment and lays the groundwork for a likely defense strategy based on self-defense.

“We are disappointed that the State’s Attorney has arrested Caleb before a complete investigation,” the statement reads. “Our family attorney has been in contact with the police and the State’s Attorney since Sunday morning. The State’s Attorney is aware that a video camera at Fat Daddy’s captured important evidence of Caleb’s innocence.”

According to the Ochse family statement, the video shows Ochse and his friend, Kendall, eating at the restaurant after 2:30 a.m. Cancelliere then enters Fat Daddy’s alone. For some unknown reason, Cancelliere looks at Ochse and his friend intently. Three men then entered Fat Daddy’s and joined Cancelliere. According to the statement, the four men order food and sit in a booth with Cancelliere sitting awkwardly on the corner of the both so he can continue to stare at Ochse and Kendall, all the while gesturing to his friends. According to the statement, the four men waited for Ochse and Kendall to leave and followed them.

“The last frames of the video show Caleb and his friend walking north with the four men close behind,” the statement reads. “One of the men, who identified himself to police as a cousin of Mr. Cancelliere, told police that they followed Caleb and his friend and got into a fight a block away from Fat Daddy’s on Talbot Street. The cousin reported to police that after the fight, he saw Mr. Cancelliere on the ground. The cousin put him in a cab to take him to Plim Plaza where they were staying, without calling the police or ambulance. Police report that Mr. Cancelliere was found with injuries to his face and head including a bloody nose and a bruise on his forehead.”

The statement goes on to say Ochse and his friend left the scene and walked home, “also without contacting police or ambulance with no knowledge that anyone was hurt.”

The Ochse family statement essentially says the surveillance video will paint a picture of the true account of the incident and show the victim and his associates as the aggressors.

“We sincerely hope that the State’s Attorney’s Office will carefully review all of the evidence as we believe Caleb and his friend clearly acted in self-defense,” the statement reads.


Midshipman Dies After Skateboarding Accident on Assateague

It was a tough month for the U.S. Naval Academy as two midshipmen have passed away over the last month, including Hans Loewen, 20, who died after being gravely injured on Assateague Island.

ASSATEAGUE — A Naval Academy midshipman severely injured in a skateboarding accident at Assateague State Park back on March 22 passed away while in a coma at the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma on Saturday.

Midshipman Third Class Hans Loewen, 20, of Hampstead, N.C., passed away on Saturday at Shock Trauma six days after he sustained injuries in a skateboarding accident while on liberty away from the academy on March 22. Loewen was camping at Assateague State Park with other midshipmen when he sustained the injuries while skateboarding. After initial treatment on the scene by local emergency personnel, Loewen was transported to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.

A York, Pa. man who was camping at the Assateague Island National Seashore that weekend said he observed three young men taking turns being pulled on a skateboard behind a jeep that Saturday evening. He said he didn’t think much of it at the time because it just appeared to be three young men horsing around and not harming themselves or others.

He did say a small crowd had gathered to watch the display, but he left around dusk, or about 8 p.m., and didn’t learn of the tragic accident until the next day. When he and his wife drove out of the national park, the road where the young men had been horsing around was blocked off as crews cleared the roadway. He said he thought at the time one of the famed horses or perhaps one of the hundreds of sika deer he had seen in the same area the day before had been hit by a vehicle, but learned the real story later that day.

In the days following the accident, Loewen’s family remained at his bedside and was supported by friends, midshipmen and Naval Academy leadership.

“My wife Barbara and I join the Brigade, staff and faculty in mourning the loss of Midshipman Hans Loewen,” said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Michael Miller in a statement. “Hans was a vibrant midshipman who loved his life to the fullest and that spirit will forever be imprinted in his classmates and the Naval Academy. As we celebrate Hans’ courage and commitment, we also come together in support for his family and friends, and all who were touched by his presence. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the Loewens and our extended USNA family during this very difficult time.”

Loewen, a sophomore, was an oceanography major in the 7th Company at the Academy and his extracurricular activities included the Adventure Racing Team, the American Nuclear Society and the Rock Climbing Club. According to his family’s Caring Bridge memorial page, Loewen was a calculated risk taker, attacking his many passions with intensity and preparation including kite surfing, rock climbing, downhill longboarding, surfing, paddle boarding, mountain climbing, mountain biking and several others.

“He researches each of his passions and when he engages in it, he does it with calculated intensity,” the memorial page reads. “On Saturday, March 22, Hans miscalculated a bit as he was engaging in one of his many extreme sports and suffered a devastating brain injury, despite wearing a helmet, after skateboarding beside a slowly moving vehicle and falling beneath its rear wheel.”

The Naval Academy will continue to support Loewen’s family, friends and loved ones during this time of grief. Grief counseling services and support are available to midshipmen, faculty and staff through chains of command, chaplains and the Midshipmen Development Center.

Loewen was the second USNA midshipman to pass away in the span of less than a week. Midshipman Will McKamey, 19, of Knoxville, Tenn., died while in a coma at Shock Trauma on March 26 three days after collapsing during a Navy spring football practice. The freshman running back collapsed on the field and was airlifted to Shock Trauma in Baltimore where he passed three days later.



‘George Feehley Has Surfed His Way Into The History Of Ocean City And Will Always Be Remembered’

George Feehley, who passed away last weekend at the age of 87, is pictured tandem surfing. Photo by Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

OCEAN CITY — The sun set on the “endless summer” for a local legend last weekend with the passage of a former Ocean City elected official, lifeguard and surfing icon.

George Feehley, 87, passed away last Saturday at the Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury, but his legendary exploits and indomitable spirit live on. Feehley served on the Ocean City Council for 12 years including two as council president from 1994 to 1996 and was instrumental in a period of growth in the resort. Already a Baltimore high school sports legend, Feehley arrived in Ocean City for good in the mid-1940s and quickly became a fixture on the north end of the beach at the outskirts of the resort, the corporate limits of which only extended to about 40th Street or so.

Feehley officially joined the Ocean City Beach Patrol in 1946, but was already patrolling the north end of the town before that. Shortly thereafter, residents in the area north of Ocean City, which was just a part of unincorporated Worcester County at the time, asked Feehley to be the lifeguard at the beach and he agreed on the condition he could also run the beach umbrella and chair concession.

While his athletic exploits were his claim to fame, many local residents remember Feehley for his time in public service. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan memorialized Feehley during the council work session on Tuesday.

“George served this community for a number of years, as a councilman for 12 years, and was elected and served as council president from 1994 to 1996,” he said. “George was very active in the community and moved here a long time ago. He was very active in supporting the Ocean City Beach Patrol and actually guarded a portion of the beach in the area of 40th Street on his own for a period of time.”

Meehan said Feehley was instrumental in forwarding a lot of the programs and services the town of Ocean City offers today.

“He was also very active in the 1980s in helping establish the Senior Center in Ocean City and its programs for the seniors,” he said. “He was a successful realtor and successful in other adventures he had tried, as well as a good promoter of Ocean City and supporter of businesses in Ocean City. It is very unfortunate and George will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family and all who knew George. We want to thank him for his service to the town of Ocean City.”

While Feehley was an active member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and a pillar in the resort’s surfing community for years, he spent his winters as a gym teacher in the local school system, most notably at Buckingham Elementary in Berlin.

“Mr. Feehley had a career as a teacher, in fact, he taught my husband back in grade school, so I know he’ll be missed,” said Ocean City Councilwoman Margaret Pillas on Tuesday. “That is what he spent his whole life doing, even on the council, trying to teach citizens, athletes and even surfers. He will be missed. I will miss him.”

While his accomplishments on the City Council were noteworthy in many respects, Feehley is remembered in many circles for his tireless work on behalf of the Beach Patrol and his athletic prowess in numerous regional, national and international lifeguard competitions even late into his life.

“George got involved with the modern Beach Patrol because of his desire to use his athletic abilities in a competitive environment,” said Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin. “I did not know him back when he guarded a beach just north of the town limits, but met him when he joined the Beach Patrol’s chapter of the USLA.”

Arbin said Feehley’s rigorous training regimen provided inspiration to the beach patrol’s much younger members.

“Seeing someone George’s age continue to train and compete was really a motivator and inspired our younger members to try even harder,” he said. “We could always count on George to contribute a large number of team points to our chapter in the National USLA championships and improve our overall team standing.”

While serving on the council, Feehley became a strong advocate for the Beach Patrol, according to Arbin, and helped forge the modern day organization.

“For many years, while George served on the City Council, the beach patrol had a special friend in high places and his influence allowed our team members to compete in major competitive events with the financial support of the town,” he said. “George Feehley has surfed his way into the history of Ocean City and will always be remembered.”

While Feehley was already guarding the north end beach in the late 1940s, it wasn’t until the early 1960s when he took up the latest craze to hit the resort. Ocean City surfing legend Skill Johnson and his brothers Al and Carl are largely credited with introducing surfing to the resort in the 1960s. Johnson, who now resides in Hawaii, said this week Feehley quickly picked up the sport and became a surfing legend in his own right.

“In 1964, the first surf shop in town was at 18th Street, but we always went up to 43rd Street, which was at the end of town limits, to surf and George had a house up there and used to guard the beach,” he said. “He saw us surfing out there and took it up and became a natural from the start. He was an athlete beyond belief.”

Johnson said he and the others in the nascent resort surfing community always marveled at Feehley’s athletic prowess.

“George was a strong man,” he said. “He used to lift weights and he had these 100-pound dumbbells he used to throw up with ease. He was one of the fittest guys I ever met. I first met George at the local premiere of ‘Endless Summer’ at Stephen Decatur High School in 1964. I got a ticket and went in, then I went back out and gave the stub to George.”

Johnson said the Ocean City community won’t soon forget Feehley’s contributions to the resort.

“He’s an Ocean City legend,” he said. “He was one of the coolest guys in Ocean City. He was a true classic and won’t be forgotten.”

Even late in life, Feehley continued to train and compete in several high profile lifeguard competitions. In November, he donated the numerous medals he had one over the years to the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum. According to an online article published in 2002, Feehley was asked why he continued to train and compete in the lifeguard competitions at his late age.

“It’s what I do,” he said. “While some guys play golf, tennis or go fishing, I compete in lifeguard competitions, mainly because I enjoy doing it. I feel fortunate that I can still get out there and compete.”

Feehley often competed in lifeguard competitions with athletes half his age or younger. He competed in national and international events where the senior divisions stopped at 65, even when he was in his 70s at the time. In 1996, he competed in the world championships in South Africa against a pool of 1,500 athletes from around the globe at the age of 70. He was the oldest member of the U.S. team, but earned a silver medal in rescue board paddling and placed fourth in two other events. A year later, Feehley won two silvers and a bronze at the USLA National Championships in San Diego.

According to legend, he was once in Chicago competing in a lifeguard competition when he was befriended by some Japanese competitors in the same event. When Feehley revealed his age, they all started bowing to him. Whenever they passed Feehley on the beach or at the hotel, they continued to bow, according to Towson University professor and former Ocean City Beach Patrol member Ellworth Boyd, who wrote an extensive article on Feehley in American Lifeguard magazine over a decade ago.

Feehley had also been a member of the Ocean City American Legion Sinepuxent Post 166, the Ocean City Beach Patrol, the Life Saving Association of America, the Ocean City Realtors Association and the Dune Club. A private memorial service will be held by the family at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his name to the Ocean City Beach Patrol Fund at 109 Dorchester Street, Ocean City, Md. 21842.


Team Effort Leads To ‘Happy Ending’ To Ocean City Locks Story

1 burrphotolocks

OCEAN CITY — Valentine’s Day weekend provided the perfect backdrop for a great love story with a happy ending this week involving a pair of locks attached to a pole on the Ocean City Boardwalk by a visiting couple several years ago that briefly went missing before being found again on Monday.

Back on Valentine’s Day in 2008, Lauren Burr and her boyfriend and future husband were visiting Ocean City. The young couple purchased a large, metal lock and carved their initials on it before hanging it on a post on the Boardwalk at Dorchester Street as a symbol of their growing love for each other. A year later, Burr’s boyfriend joined the Marines. The couple got married in March 2010 and Burr’s husband then went away for a year for training.

During his absence, Burr would often visit Ocean City and return to visit the symbolic lock hanging from the post on the Boardwalk at Dorchester Street. After Burr’s husband completed his training, the couple moved to North Carolina in April 2011 and two months later learned they were expecting their first child. When Burr was eight months pregnant, the couple returned to their favorite bench near the lock they had hung three years earlier and added a second, smaller lock. The second lock was carved with the letter “C” for their soon-to-be first child Claire.

The couple returned often to the bench near the post on the Boardwalk that held the two locks, which had weathered and begun to show their age. According to Burr, the locks had survived hot summers, harsh winters, more than a few storms and even Hurricane Sandy. She said this week she was happy to see them still hanging strong after that terrible storm.

Last week, Burr’s friends were visiting Ocean City and were well aware of the locks the couple had hung. However, when they visited the site, not only were the locks gone, but the pole on which they had been attached were also missing, as were many of the other familiar poles in the same area. Through various connections, Ocean City Councilman Doug Cymek was made aware of the situation and set in motion in effort to locate the symbolic locks. Through mutual friends, Cymek’s daughter made the councilman aware of the situation.

“It was interesting how it came to my attention,” said Cymek this week. “I was contacted by my daughter, who was contacted by a mutual friend that knew Lauren and knew the story of the missing locks. I told my daughter it might be a long shot, but I would make an effort to find out what happened to the locks and the pole.”

As it turns out, that particular pole and others in the area were removed to be refurbished as an add-on to the recently approved Boardwalk Arch recoating and restoration. Cymek contacted Public Works Director Hal Adkins and City Engineer Terry McGean to find out where the poles had been relocated.

Some of the poles had been stored in a storage facility, while others, including the one with the two symbolic locks attached, had already been sent out to the contractor for refurbishing. Ocean City staffers on Monday were trying to locate the missing pole and the locks attached to it, and through a series of phone calls and other communications, it was determined the locks had been taken off the pole by simply unscrewing the bracket they were attached to and were found sitting on a bench at the contractor’s facility. As a result, the locks are safe and sound and will be reattached to the same pole at the same location in the future, likely somewhat higher than they once were.

“We were able to get a happy ending,” said Cymek. “We had a lot of people involved in finding them, many of whom were off on Monday because of the holiday. We know our visitors have a special place in their heart for Ocean City and something we might think is so small is clearly a huge part of someone else’s memories of the beach. With a little bit of help from our staff, we are hoping to restore the locks and hang them back on Dorchester Street for the Burr family to enjoy for many years to come.”

Burr, of course, was relieved the locks that had hung on the pole at Dorchester Street near the Candy Kitchen for just about six years had been found.

“I’m just so happy,” she said on Tuesday. “I never imagined so many caring people could be in one community. Ocean City has always been a special place for my husband and me, but now when we visit, it will mean so much more to us. They aren’t our locks anymore, they are everyone’s locks. Everyone has put so much effort and love into finding them and now we want to share them with everyone.”

Burr said on Tuesday the story of the lost and found locks has grown from a very personal one to a communal one.

“The first lock symbolized our love for each other, and the second lock symbolized our love for our daughter,” she said. “Now, this really illustrates the love shared by this entire community. Hopefully, this serves as a reminder for people to love one another and pay it forward.”