Reported Gricar sightings turning in no new leads

June 29, 2005 

BELLEFONTE — Reported sightings of District Attorney Ray Gricar, missing since mid-April, keep getting more and more implausible.

Someone called Bellefonte police and said they saw him in the audience of a taped Oprah Winfrey show. A Pittsburgh truck driver called and said he saw him in a car on an interstate, being followed by a brown sedan. He's supposedly also been spotted in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland.

Most of these tips are leading to dead ends, either because surveillance footage refutes them or because they don't lead to any further information.

And as time goes on, Bellefonte police officer Darrel Zaccagni has less and less hope that Gricar is still alive.

"There's no credit card activity, no bank account activity," he said. "That's the biggest thing that leads us to believe he's no longer with us, either because of homicide or suicide."

Zaccagni, the lead investigator on the case, said he thinks it's unlikely Gricar just went off and "is living off a sugar momma," either.

"I think he really cared for (girlfriend) Patty and, from what I've heard, for Lara," his daughter, he said. "I don't see him just leaving like that."

Gricar, 59, was last heard from at about 11:30 a.m. April 15, when he called his girlfriend and housemate Patty Fornicola to say he was taking a drive along state Route 192 in Brush Valley and wouldn't be home to let the dog out at noon.

Fornicola called police about 12 hours later, when he still hadn't returned home. The car he was driving, a red and white Mini Cooper, was found in a Lewisburg parking lot the next day. His county-issued cell phone was still inside; still missing are his county-issued laptop, his car keys and his sunglasses.

Fornicola, who works as a clerk in the district attorney's office, said she's back at work and trying to keep up a brave front. But when asked if her life has gotten back to normal, she started to cry.

"What's normal?" she said. "I'm half-afraid to go back to normal ... I keep thinking about what we'd be doing or what we did this time last year."

The reported sightings of Gricar, whom she'd dated for four years, gives Fornicola hope that he is still alive somewhere, even thought most reports have proven to be questionable.

"Some people think I'm too hopeful," she said. "But I don't care what people think."

A reported sighting at a Columbus, Ohio, grocery store was dismissed as incorrect after Gricar's nephews, police and Fornicola viewed surveillance tape taken from the store. Although the man in the tape looked very similar to Gricar, Zaccagni said, "there's no way it was Ray."

A reported sighting of Gricar in Southfield, Mich., has also fizzled, due to lack of any further information. A retired Detroit law enforcement official said he saw Gricar at a popular restaurant in Southfield, a suburb of Detroit, on May 27. But police have been unable to find any information on the bill the restaurant gave to the man thought to be Gricar, nor has the man come back to the restaurant, Zaccagni said.

"It might be a good, credible sighting," he said. "But without any more, we can't do much."

Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616.

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