Local Men Plead Guilty To Affray In Fatality Case; Maximum Sentences Outlined

Local Men Plead Guilty To Affray  In Fatality Case; Maximum Sentences Outlined

SNOW HILL — With two local men charged with manslaughter for their alleged roles in the death of a Pennsylvania man pleading guilty to the lesser charge of affray on Wednesday in Worcester County Circuit Court, all the details of the incident will likely never be known.

Caleb Edwin-Earl Ochse, 28, of Ocean City, and Christopher Blake Kendall, 22, of Ocean City, each entered plea arrangements in Worcester County Circuit Court on Wednesday in which they agreed to plead to affray, a common law charge essentially indicating they were guilty of participating in a fight in a public place. Ochse and Kendall had been charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and alcoholic beverage-did endanger for their alleged roles in the death of Justin D. Cancelliere, 37, of North Whitehall, Pa. early in the morning on Aug. 24, 2014.

As part of the plea agreement, Kendall faces an agreed-upon maximum sentence of one year, while Ochse faces an agreed-upon maximum sentence of 18 months. Pre-sentence investigations were ordered for each of the suspects and sentencing will be scheduled for a later date, likely in late February or March.

Ochse has been held on a $400,000 bond since late August, and despite an appeal by his defense team to reduce his bond and perhaps release him from jail during the PSI process, Judge Thomas C. Groton denied the bond reduction and Ochse will remain behind bars. For his part, Kendall was released on bond following the incident and will remain free until his sentencing hearing later this winter.

The incident dates back to around 3 a.m. on Aug. 24 when Ocean City Police and Emergency Services responded to a hotel parking lot on 2nd Street for a reported assault that had already occurred. Upon arrival, OCPD officers found the victim, later Cancelliere, unconscious and unresponsive. First responders from the OCPD and 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 and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled to 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 Ochse and Kendall were arrested the following day and charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, affray, disorderly conduct and alcoholic beverage-did endanger for their alleged roles in the confrontation.

Almost from the beginning, the case against the two local defendants was far from conventional with Ochse’s parents providing important evidence first to the media and later through its own website called “Justice for Locals.” The evidence included video surveillance tapes from Fat Daddy’s restaurant on Baltimore Ave. and Talbot Street where the defendants and the victim and his group, including a cousin and friend were seen just prior to the incident.

A second surveillance video was later made public showing the victim and two others arriving at parking lot of the Plim Plaza Hotel on 2nd Street where Cancielliere and his group were staying.

The first video clearly showed Ochse, Kendall and an unidentified female leaving Fat Daddy’s with Cancelliere and his group following close behind. The second video showed a taxi arriving at the Plim Plaza parking lot with a member of Cancelliere’s group and an unidentified female pulling the unconscious victim from the cab. Exactly what happened in between is uncertain although it was clear there had been a physical altercation involving the victim and Ochse and Kendall.

According to the statement of charges read into the record during Wednesday’s proceedings, the incident was characterized as a verbal altercation that escalated into a “mutually agreed upon” physical altercation, suggesting each of the parties had a role in escalating the confrontation and each had tacitly consented to fight on the public street in the area of Talbot Street. Essentially, the statement of charges characterized the incident not as an altercation started by one party or the other, but rather a typical street fight, not uncommon in Ocean City in the late-night hours during the summer months, that went horribly bad.

While the two videos painted a bookend picture of what happened on either end of the fatal confrontation, what occurred in between was largely vague from the beginning. However, witness testimony provided to OCPD detectives from the victim’s cousin and friends, along with the taxi driver who transported the injured Cancelliere to the Plim Plaza, and a handful of foreign students living and working in the downtown area during the summer helped fill in some of the gaps.

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. “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 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.”

Another witness, presumably 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 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.”