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 www.Justice-For-Locals.com 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.