Restaurant’s Locked Emergency Exit Results In Fine

SNOW HILL – A locked emergency exit resulted in a $1,000 fine for Mother’s Cantina from the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners.

The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) fined Mother’s Cantina $500 for failing to cooperate with a competent authority during an inspection and $500 for violating a reasonable order issued by that authority, which in this case was the office of the Ocean City Fire Marshal.

“It was simply an oversight on our part,” said Ryan James, owner of Mother’s Cantina.

The incident occurred on the evening of May 21 when Ocean City Deputy Fire Marshal Ryan Whittington found an emergency exit at Mother’s Cantina locked. Such doors are only permitted to be locked when an establishment is empty.

When Whittington approached Chris Morsey, a member of the restaurant’s security staff, Morsey went to find James. As he did, he checked the door Whittington referenced and, upon seeing it was locked, Morsey unlocked it. When he returned to Whittington, he told him the door had not been locked.

“Chris decided to take matters in his own hands and used bad judgment,” attorney Joe Moore said.

Whittington said that after he told Morsey he had checked the door before he had ever entered the building, Morsey apologized.

“He did lie to me,” Whittington said.

James told BLC members the door had been locked because if it wasn’t locked, it was a way underage individuals could enter the bar. He said he got an estimate for having it replaced in April but was told it would be several months before the company would get to it.

“We were waiting for them to cycle us in,” he said.

In the meantime, he hired an additional security officer to monitor the door so that it could be left unlocked at night. James said staff simply forgot to unlock the door the night Whittington stopped by.

“It was raining and we got absolutely slammed,” he said. “We forgot to unlock the door.”

James had a panic bar installed on the door the following day to resolve the issue. Morsey was suspended for a week following the incident.

William Esham, chairman of the BLC, warned James to be careful in the future.

“I admire you for taking care of your employee,” he said, “but we can’t have him lying to the fire marshal.”

Though James paid the restaurant’s BLC fine immediately following Wednesday’s meeting, Mother’s Cantina still faces a $500 citation from Whittington’s office. A trial date has been set for Aug. 11.

On Wednesday, the BLC also fined Casey’s Corner on Route 50 $1,000 for selling alcohol to a minor. Though Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputy Jennifer Hall said the store wasn’t a “hotspot” for sales to minors, the location had sold to minors previously.

Ponzetti’s Pizza on 143rd Street received a $750 fine for a sale to a minor that occurred Memorial Day weekend. One of the restaurant’s staff served an Ocean City police cadet even after checking her driver’s license, which showed that she was under 21. The restaurant had a previous violation in 2011.

Businesses receiving letters of reprimand from the BLC for sales to minors included 7-Eleven Ocean Pines, Guido’s Burritos on 33rd Street, Oceans Market on 141st Street and Rio Grande Café on 145th Street.