Gricar investigation stalled

pbosak@centredaily.comJanuary 1, 2006 

At least two district attorneys in Pennsylvania are hoping that the state attorney general's office will take over the investigation into Ray Gricar's disappearance, citing the state's further reach and deeper pockets.

But state Attorney General Tom Corbett is unsure what, if any, additional resources his office can contribute to the search, a spokesman said.

It's been almost nine months since Gricar, the county's longtime district attorney, vanished. The few clues uncovered in the ensuing investigation have all led to dead ends. Bellefonte police, who are investigating the case, say there has been no new information in the past few weeks.

All of that reinforces the opinions of Clinton County District Attorney Ted McKnight and Montour County District Attorney Bob Buehner that Corbett's office should take over.

"Who's in charge of this case?" Buehner asked. "Bellefonte has done an outstanding job, ... but they're limited in resources and scope."

Both Buehner and McKnight think Gricar was killed, and neither thinks it happened in Bellefonte. Buehner pointed out that Gricar's car was found in Lewisburg on April 16, the day after he disappeared. He said it's likely that whatever happened, happened there.

Also, both men said, the attorney general's office would be better able to devote time to review Gricar's cases, which span more than 20 years, to look for connections.

"I've said from day one that I thought he was the object of foul play," McKnight said. "Looking at his cases would be the first place I would start."

Bellefonte police Officer Darrel Zaccagni, the lead investigator in the case, said he's always welcomed help from other agencies.

"But he's just a missing person right now," Zaccagni said. "I don't know what (the attorney general's office) can do that we're not already doing."

Zaccagni and other Bellefonte officers plan to meet soon with Shawn Weaver, the new Bellefonte police chief, and Michael Madeira, the county's new district attorney, to discuss the investigation. Zaccagni said that asking Corbett's office to get involved would be up to them.

Madeira, who was a senior deputy prosecutor with the attorney general's office, said he wants to learn more about the investigation before leaping in with a request for state help.

"I'm still in a position of an outsider looking in," Madeira said. "If my connections with the attorney general's office can help, then I'll do what I can."

But Buehner and McKnight said they're also considering making a request to the attorney general's office about getting involved if nothing happens soon.

"Theoretically, a district attorney with some connection to the case would make the request," McKnight said. "I'm going to raise the idea at the midwinter Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association meeting."

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said a request for help would have to come from Madeira. Even then, for Corbett's office to get involved, local authorities would have to either have a conflict of interest in a potential prosecution or be hindered by a lack of resources.

Bellefonte police have been assisted by state police and the FBI, Harley said.

"That is one of the things we'd have to consider," he said. "What could we do that isn't being done or hasn't been done?"

Meanwhile, Gricar's family and friends continue to struggle with his absence and with the lack of answers.

Gricar had announced he would retire at the end of 2005. His girlfriend and housemate, Patty Fornicola, had planned to quit her job with the district attorney's office around Thanksgiving and take time to prepare for the holidays and plan a retirement party and a summerlong road trip with Gricar.

"He said he wanted to retire to do the things he's always wanted to do," Fornicola said. "And he said the things he wanted to do, he wanted to do with me."

Instead, Fornicola continues to report for work.

"It's definitely not how I wanted things to be," she said. "People have asked me, 'Are you still going to stop working?' Well, the whole point of stopping was to be with Ray."

The district attorney's office has continued to operate as close to normal as possible, with First Assistant District Attorney Mark Smith and other prosecutors filling the gaps until Madeira, who was sworn in Friday, begins work.

"Each attorney stepped up to the plate and got the work done," said Smith, who has handled all the personnel matters that would have fallen to Gricar while continuing to prosecute a full load of cases.

Through it all, his friend's disappearance has weighed heavily on his mind.

"It's something I think about when I go to bed at night, and it's something I think about when I get up in the morning," he said. "I thought that as time went by we'd come up with leads or some indication of what happened."

Zaccagni resumed his regular duties a few months ago, as leads in the Gricar investigation were exhausted. Still, three boxes of items relating to Gricar's disappearance occupy space on his desk.

"I don't think it's ever going to fall from the priority list," he said of the investigation. "I have a couple of ideas. ... It's still sitting there front and center."

Zaccagni's commitment is heartening to Gricar's nephew Tony Gricar, who said he'll continue to call investigators and push for meetings every few months to keep the case fresh in the minds of police.

"I'm not sure how much time law enforcement can devote to this now," Tony Gricar said. "But we want a resolution, for Lara (Gricar's daughter) and for Patty."

Centre Daily Times reporter Pete Bosak contributed to this report.

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