The confrontation that led to a felony charge against the CEO of New Era Cap Co. began Saturday night when his girlfriend’s ex-husband pulled up and abruptly parked his pickup on Delaware Avenue by Oliver’s Restaurant.
Christopher H. Koch, who had dined at the restaurant, was steering his SUV away from the establishment when the ex-husband got out of his truck, headed to Koch’s SUV and tried to get Koch to fight him, authorities said.
“Let’s settle this like men,” the ex-husband man said to Koch, according to a police report.
The ex-husband, who officials declined to identify, went to Oliver’s because he knew Koch and his ex-wife were there, authorities said.
Koch deliberately drove toward the ex-husband, who lunged out of the way but injured his hand in the incident, officials said.
Koch, 61, who has served as chief executive of his family’s Buffalo-based business since 2001, now faces a felony reckless endangerment charge.
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“Anytime you, like I said, allegedly drive your car at another human being, there is a potential for something bad to happen,” Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn told reporters Monday. “And, again, thank God in this case it didn’t.”
Koch denied wrongdoing through his lawyers, Aaron Glazer and Paul Cambria Jr.
“Clearly, there was a traffic accident,” Glazer told The Buffalo News in a statement. “However, we firmly believe, based upon the evidence, that Mr. Koch committed no criminal acts whatsoever. The rest will be resolved in the courtroom.”
The incident drew extensive interest once the District Attorney’s Office on Monday revealed he had been arraigned earlier in the morning.
The office’s news release came about 36 hours after the incident outside Oliver’s.
David Schutte, who owns Oliver’s, confirmed it happened near his establishment.
“He’s a very good customer of ours and a good friend,” Schutte said in an interview. “He was dining there and upon leaving the restaurant, I believe, is when the accident occurred. I was not a witness to it.”
Koch and his girlfriend, who officials also declined to identify, were leaving Oliver’s, at Delaware and Delham avenues in North Buffalo, shortly after 8:30 pm Saturday.
Flynn told reporters the girlfriend’s ex-husband showed up at Oliver’s because he knew his ex-wife and Koch were there. He declined to say why the man wanted to confront Koch nor would he reveal what they said to each other.
“I don’t want to go into specifics right now,” Flynn said. “But I think you can probably read the tea leaves here. And we have a situation where, you know, we have an ex-husband of a current girlfriend. And, so, I’ll just kind of leave it at that.”
A police report states the ex-husband, a 45-year-old Buffalo resident, was driving a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado pickup northbound on Delaware when he pulled up in front of the parking lot just as Koch and his girlfriend were trying to leave.
The ex-husband got out of his pickup and approached Koch’s 2022 Cadillac Escalade SUV, according to the police report, “in an attempt to fight the defendant.”
Koch, in response, intentionally drove toward the man, who was standing in front of Koch’s SUV, Flynn said.
The man, whose name was redacted in the police report, jumped out of the way to avoid being hit but injured one of his hands.
Koch also struck the man’s pickup, damaging the passenger side, Flynn said.
Reporters on Monday pressed Flynn on whether the fact the man went down to the restaurant to confront Koch, and apparently stood directly in the path of Koch’s vehicle during the argument, should affect whether and to what degree Koch is charged.
Flynn said his office is reviewing the evidence and could adjust the charge or add charges, based on the investigation.
“As of right now the victim is a victim,” Flynn said, “and the victim is not considered for any charges at all. Only Mr. Koch has been charged at this time.”
Asked whether Koch had been drinking prior to the incident, Flynn told reporters he didn’t know.
After his SUV struck the man, Flynn said, Koch remained at or returned to the scene and cooperated with Buffalo police officers.
“There’s a lot more you’re going to probably hear from the lawyers as it presents itself,” said Schutte, Oliver’s owner. “But, yeah, this is way out of character – and I don’t think you know all the details yet. I mean, that’ll all come out, I’m sure.”
Koch was sponsored Monday morning before Buffalo City Court Judge Andrew C. LoTempio.
A temporary no-contact order of protection was issued on behalf of the ex-husband.
Koch, released on his own recognition, is scheduled to return to court on May 25 for a felony hearing.
If convicted of the charge, Koch faces up to seven years in prison.
“If an individual has no record, if there’s, you know, two sides of the story as far as what happened here, what precipitated the fight or alleged incident – all those things are going to factor into my reasonableness,” Flynn said.
New Era Cap declined to comment on Koch’s arrest.
Koch was named the 2013 Buffalo Niagara Executive of the Year and was appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the University at Buffalo Council.
The company has been in the Koch family’s hands since it was founded in 1920 by Christopher Koch’s great-grandfather.
Earlier this year, ACON Investments, a private equity investment firm, took a 15% to 20% stake in New Era, with the Koch family continuing to own the rest, Moody’s reported.
New Era is headquartered on Delaware Avenue, where it also operates a retail store, but the company no longer has local manufacturing.
The company has official licensing agreements with Major League Baseball, the National Football League and numerous other professional and amateur sports leagues.
News Staff Reporter Aaron Besecker contributed to this report.