Investigation Continues For Two Unrelated Hit-And-Run Cases; Knupp Family ‘Confident’ As Probe Nears End

Investigation Continues For Two Unrelated Hit-And-Run Cases; Knupp Family ‘Confident’ As Probe Nears End
Protestors are pictured outside the Worcester County courthouse last September. File Photo

BERLIN – Two fatal hit-and-run cases from last year remain under active investigation amid a constant swirl of questions, but progress was cited this week in the spirited quest for justice in a local teen’s death.

The higher profile of the two unresolved pedestrian fatalities in 2022 was the first involving Gavin Knupp, who was 14 years old when he was killed crossing Gray’s Corner Road last summer as a pedestrian returning to a vehicle driven by his sister. Officially, what is known today is what was reported by police hours after the fatal collision. The public comments remain the same. Maryland State Police Office of Media Communications Director Elena Russo confirmed this week the “the case is still active and ongoing.”

On Thursday, Knupp’s father, Ray, posted on the Do It For Gavin-Justice for Gavin Facebook page, which is a public group with 19,600 followers, “Met with SA (State’s Attorney) today. Won’t be much longer.”

Knupp family attorney Neil Dubovsky expanded on that post, saying, “As their investigation works its way to a conclusion, we remain confident that (State’s Attorney) Kris Heiser and her incredible team will secure justice for the Knupp family and the entire community. We remain appreciative of everyone’s encouragement and support.”

Due to the investigation remaining active, Heiser was unable to offer details Friday. “I cannot comment on the Knupp investigation as it is still ongoing, but I can confirm that we do meet with and update victims on cases regularly and that it is our common practice to do so,” she said.

Three months later and a little more than a mile to the east of where Knupp was struck on Gray’s Corner Road, on Oct. 6, retired local veterinarian Terri Wattay, 59, of Berlin was killed in a hit-and-run crash near her residence.

The preliminary investigation indicates the vehicle was traveling west on Grays Corner Road when it struck the pedestrian who was on the right side of the roadway. Troopers subsequently located the driver of the vehicle, later identified as Russell Kimball, 62, of Berlin. He told police he swerved to miss a dog. He has not been charged in the case.

“Under active investigation” was the same report from State Police when asked about the status of the Wattay death this week. Heiser confirmed the investigation remains ongoing and could not comment.

It’s not uncommon for motor vehicle fatalities to take many months for charges to be filed, according to recent history. For example, on Dec. 17, 2018, police revealed that a single-vehicle accident in the area of Route 589 near Beauchamp Road claimed the life of a 25-year-old man. According to police, an F-150 pickup truck crashed after the driver, a 30-year-old Worcester County man, lost control of the vehicle. The 25-year-old passenger was partially ejected and suffered fatal injuries. According to police reports, troopers on the scene observed significant signs of impairment exhibited by the driver.

During a town hall meeting in May of 2019, Heiser talked about the length of time the investigation had taken while blood testing results were examined. When asked at the town hall if she was satisfied with the pace of that specific probe, Heiser said she was not, “but there’s nothing I can do. They have three chemists or four chemists that do this type of testing that we needed to have done. There’s actually such a shortage at the state level for this testing now that they’ve actually received a grant to … get additional help from out of state because we are so strapped for qualified individuals to conduct the testing. I don’t relish the idea of having had to wait five months but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

In February of 2020, 14 months after the fatal accident, Bryan Wersten 32, was convicted of homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of controlled dangerous substances and sentencing was deferred. Wersten was the driver of a vehicle that claimed the life of his passenger, identified as Michael Hernandez, also of Berlin. Wersten was sentenced in July of 2020 to 10 years in jail all but four of which was suspended. He was also placed on supervised probation for five years following his release.

Knupp Case Review

A black Mercedes was driving eastbound on July 11 around 10:45 p.m. on Grays Corner Road, a short cut used by locals to avoid the Routes 589 and 50 traffic light that runs parallel to Route 50 between Glen Riddle Lane and Route 589. The vehicle struck and killed Knupp, who was reportedly a pedestrian on the road and was returning to a nearby vehicle when the collision took place. Knupp was pronounced dead at Atlantic General Hospital shortly after the collision.

The vehicle fled the scene and did not return. Police reportedly canvassed the area with residents in Glen Riddle reporting police asked permission to search garages and properties for the vehicle. On Sunday, July 17, 2022, six days after the incident, at 1;30 a.m., the Mercedes identified as the vehicle in the collision was seized from a home in the Ocean Reef community. The vehicle, which reportedly matched the suspected damages sustained in the collision, was towed to the Maryland State Police Berlin Barrack for further processing.

A press release stated, “Maryland State Police continue the search for the individual operating the Mercedes at the time of the incident. Anyone who witnessed this crash, or who may have information about the operator of the suspected vehicle, is urged to contact Maryland State Police Corporal Kevin Moore of the Maryland State Police Crash Team at 410-819-4721. The investigation continues…”

In the immediate aftermath of Knupp’s death, a GoFundMe Page raised more than $50,000, which the family has funneled into the creation of the Gavin Knupp Foundation.

From the beginning, the family’s official statements through their attorney have maintained the high road and been supportive of authorities. In other interviews, the family has admitted candidly the investigation has taken a toll and patience is wearing thin.


A memorial site for Gavin Knupp is pictured along Gray’s Corner Road last month. File Photo

Most recently, Gavin’s mom, Tiffany, was on Ocean 98.1 WOCM last month discussing the foundation as well as making another plea for witnesses with knowledge about her son’s death to do the right thing and come forward. “There are people in this community who absolutely know. There are eyewitnesses who have not come forward that just won’t speak. I don’t know why. I just want them to come forward and we are begging them to come forward,” she said. “… I am not backing down … I am ready for justice for my son. … We do get briefed on the case. Every two weeks our attorney gets briefed by the State’s Attorney’s Office. He talks to us about it. It’s progressing. We do trust in the system and the process. It’s just my patience is done. I’ve had enough. It’s six months. I’m done. We are ready for some movement. I want an arrest. I want this justice. We should not be fighting this hard for justice.”

Summer Knupp, Gavin’s older sister, was driving Gavin the night her brother was struck and killed as a pedestrian. She was on the local radio show with her mom. “Patience is gone. It feels like it’s yesterday but when you do realize it’s been six months …,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for six months. I’ve been told since July 12, the day after, he would be arrested soon and six months later I’m still waiting. It’s getting tiring.”

Time will tell what justice looks like in this specific case, and the worry for many is justice will not be the reality because of the long investigation.  A potential charge against the motorist who struck and killed Knupp and fled the scene could be leaving the scene of a fatal accident. State code says,  “A person who violates § 20-102 of this article (“Driver to remain at scene — Accident resulting in bodily injury or death”) and who knew or reasonably should have known that the accident might result in the death of another person and death actually occurred to another person, is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $10,000 or both.”

Over the course of the many months since the incident, the Knupp family has remained committed to supporting police and the investigation underway.

In October of 2022, the Knupp family appeared on local news stations in touching features. After watching the WBOC and WMDT segments, the takeaway was the family has more information than the public about the investigation. Armed with details that can’t be shared publicly, the family is at peace with how law enforcement is handling the investigation.

On WBOC’s interview with Steve Hammond, Tiffany Knupp said, “We know that the police department and everybody is working overtime. And we have complete faith in them and we know how hard they’re working and we saw that from the beginning. The fact that it’s taking a while is a good thing. They’re getting everything right so we trust in that … You think of death and mourning and that totally cripples us, trust me all day long. But there’s also this level of strength that we have and I totally, firmly believe it’s Gavin just kind of pushing us along because he would not want us to be upset. That’s not his personality. He would want us to fight for him and we are for sure.”

During the same interview, sister Summer Knupp showed remarkable poise and maturity for her age, saying, “Naturally everyone’s going to be frustrated with how long. Time is a frustrating thing, but we are more worried about having a conviction and having an outcome we want than how long it takes. We don’t want to rush something and then get it wrong and then we’re upset about that for years and years to come.”

In September of 2022, Knupp attorney Dubovsky issued a statement, saying, “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.”

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.