Restaurateur Ortt Apologizes For Post-Tragedy Statement, Separates Company From Former Partner

Restaurateur Ortt Apologizes For Post-Tragedy Statement, Separates Company From Former Partner
Supporters and members of the Knupp family staged a protest in front of Coastal Smokehouse last October. The restaurant ownership has since changed hands. Photo by Campos Media

BERLIN – The co-founder of a local restaurant management company issued a statement this week apologizing to the community for his “terrible mistake” in the days following a local teen’s death.

“In the days following the devastating and sudden loss of Gavin Knupp, I made a terrible mistake by blindly and publicly advocating for my long-term business partner, Ralph DeAngelus,” said Matt Ortt Companies co-founder Matt Ortt. “I issued a supportive written statement that was based solely on my trust in Mr. DeAngelus without contemplating the deep-seated pain my stance would cause. My actions were insensitive, inappropriate and showed very poor judgement. In hindsight, I should have waited until independently verified investigative facts were available before offering an opinion. I deeply apologize and regret my actions. I have always, and very firmly believed, that anyone who is directly involved in, or who has any information about the accident, should immediately come forward and communicate what they know to authorities. There is nothing more important than full disclosure and accountability.”

Charges have not yet been filed in the death of Ocean Pines resident Gavin Knupp, 14, who was a pedestrian returning to a vehicle driven by his sister on Grays Corner Road July 11 when he was struck by a black 2011 Mercedes traveling east bound. He would die soon after the 10:45 p.m. collision at Atlantic General Hospital. Though the driver of the Mercedes has reportedly been identified as a suspect of interest, there has been no official information presented confirming police know the motorist’s whereabouts.  Six days after the collision, the Mercedes involved in the fatal hit-and-run was seized from a home in Ocean Reef in West Ocean City for processing. Maryland State Police confirmed last month the investigation remains “active.”

Ortt’s personal statement refers to a statement of support for DeAngelus he released in July that drew immediate fire from the Knupp family and supporters. All restaurants linked to the company were immediately inundated with social media blasts. The online criticism has now spilled over to protests last month outside Ortt Companies-operated restaurants like Coastal Smokehouse in West Ocean City and Coastal Salt and the Rum Shack in Ocean City. At the Rum Shack protest two weeks ago, DeAngelus had several conversations with protestors, leading Tiffany Knupp to post a picture of DeAngelus with a Facebook message, “Ralph, Did you walk by children while they were visibly crying over the death of their friend? You … piece of … You walked by everyone including [Gavin’s father] Ray just to through your weight around! You mocked us..Ralph my son is dead.”

In addition to his personal apology, Ortt announced Monday in a press release the company “has completely divested and removed Ralph DeAngelus from the organization, effective immediately. Mr. DeAngelus was formerly one of the organization’s Members.”

The press release reads, “In the weeks and months following the devastating and sudden loss of Gavin Knupp, the partnership team strongly considered removing Mr. DeAngelus from the company. However, what prevented the move to this point was the partners’ belief that it was vitally important to be patient and allow the investigative process to independently move forward before deciding Mr. DeAngelus’ future. We were hoping to better understand all of the facts, and each person’s role on the night of the accident, with investigative certainty. There is no question that process is as important as outcome.”

The press release continues, “While it had been everyone’s collective hope the criminal justice process would move much more quickly, unfortunately, this has not been the case. Furthermore, it appears the investigation remains open with no indication given as to when that process may be completed. As a result, Matt Ortt Companies’ partners decided to wait no longer and moved forward with Mr. DeAngelus’ divestment and removal. Additionally, both Kearston (Frey) and her son, Tyler (Mailloux), are no longer affiliated with the company in any way.”

The press release confirms Matt Ortt Companies has cooperated with law enforcement to all extents possible.

“Regarding the ongoing investigation, Matt Ortt Companies reiterated that the organization has been, and will remain, transparent and responsive to any and all requests made by those investigating the incident. Matt Ortt Companies strongly emphasized that none of the remaining partners, or their families, were involved in, have any information about, or would shield anyone involved in this case. To say otherwise is simply not true,” the press release reads. “The entire organization expresses its heartfelt sorrow for the Knupp family and all who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy.”

The July statement from Ortt Companies outed DeAngelus who up until that point was not publicly linked to the incident. DeAngelus’s girlfriend’s son is widely believed to be the motorist who struck Knupp. The statement, which was ultimately removed from social media after a scathing response from community members, defended DeAngelus. To this day, any post made by Matt Ortt Companies-controlled restaurants are met with #justiceforgavin comments from the Knupp family and friends. The comments are typically deleted or hidden quickly by the individual restaurant page administrators.

The July statement Ortt apologized for Monday read, “On behalf of Matt Ortt Companies, we are aware of a tragic event that has brought pain and heartache to multiple families and our thoughts are with all of those involved. With all of the speculation surrounding this event, I feel the need to say something publicly. I have been in business with Ralph DeAngelus for three decades as a leader, mentor, and partner. During that time, Ralph has always been a man of integrity, which is how he has built such a stellar reputation in our town. Over the past few years, Matt Ortt Companies has added substantially to the area by revitalizing the Ocean Pines food and beverage operations and starting two new popular restaurants, all of which employ over 400 members of this community. At this time, my focus will be to continue to operate Matt Ortt Companies to the same high standards to which we have always held ourselves.”

The statement continued, “For obvious reasons, Ralph cannot speak about this matter. However, he has said to me directly: ‘In the end, the truth will come out, and it will prove me to be the man you always thought I was.’ I will take him, as I always have, at his word, and I hope the community at large will as well. Ralph has never violated the trust that I put in him, and I don’t expect that to ever change. As the Managing Member of the Matt Ortt Companies, and on behalf of the management team, we stand fully behind Ralph’s word and will continue to wait for all the facts to come out as the investigation proceeds.”

Through their attorney, the Knupp family has maintained confidence in the legal system and law enforcement since the tragedy over the summer. The family in late September received an update on the investigation from State’s Attorney Kris Heiser. After the meeting the family’s statement read, “Having had the opportunity to meet with the State’s Attorney and others in her office, we believe more strongly than ever that those responsible for Gavin’s death will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We thank Kris Heiser, her team and law enforcement for all their hard work to that end.”

The full Matt Ortt Company statement can be viewed here.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.