Gricar case still baffles police a year later

pbosak@centredaily.comApril 14, 2006 

BELLEFONTE — Today marks one year of sorrow and anxiety for the family and friends of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.

For police investigators, it has been one year of frustration.

On April 15, 2005, Gricar took the day off from the district attorney's office, called his girlfriend to tell her he was taking a drive on state Route 192 and seemingly stepped off the face of the planet.

It was the last time police are sure that anyone heard from or saw him.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think I about this case," said Bellefonte police Officer Darrel Zaccagni, lead investigator on the case. "It's discussed every day. But now, it's just follow up leads as they come in."

That isn't often anymore.

The last credible lead was called in to police three weeks ago, when a man said he saw Gricar standing in line at a Houtzdale bank.

"He insisted he was a dead ringer for Ray," Zaccagni said.

With the help of state police in Clearfield, surveillance footage from the bank was carefully screened.

"We couldn't even find a man in that bank in that time frame," Zaccagni said. "That was the last, best sighting that seemed to be credible."

There have been dozens of "credible" reported sightings -- in Wilkes-Barre, Chicago, Texas and other places -- as well as countless other calls from people who swore they saw Gricar driving the other way on some highway, or in a line at some grocery store or bank.

Still, his daughter, Lara, continues to hope for a happy ending, said her attorney and family friend Amos Goodall.

"I don't think she's ever given up hope that her father will come back," Goodall said. "But I believe, if there was any way for him to get a message to her, he would have by now. But she's never given up hope."

Law enforcement authorities and Gricar's loved ones declined to talk specifically about the case until a news conference planned for 10 a.m. today in the county Courthouse Annex.

At that time, Zaccagni, Bellefonte Police Chief Shawn Weaver, state police, Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira, Gricar's family members and loved ones will talk about the case, where it has led and, ultimately, where it has failed to lead.

Leading nowhere

It has not turned up any clues as to what happened to the career prosecutor, who by all accounts was looking forward to retiring at the end of 2005 and traveling with his girlfriend and housemate, Patty Fornicola.

It was she who called police when Gricar failed to return from his drive on April 15, 2005. State police found Gricar's car about 6:30 p.m. the next day in a parking lot at North Water and St. John streets in Lewisburg. That same day, police received the first of what would be many Gricar sightings.

This one was in Lewisburg, in shops near where his red and white car was found. But it led nowhere.

The car also told police nothing.

"All of the legible prints in the car were identified," Zaccagni said. "And they were Ray's."

There were no indications anyone tried to "wipe the car clean" of any other fingerprints, Zaccagni said.

The only odd finding was cigarette ash on the passenger side floor of the car, Zaccagni has said. Gricar didn't smoke, except for the occasional, celebratory cigar.

On July 30, investigators' hopes soared when two fishermen found Gricar's missing laptop computer in the Susquehanna River under the state Route 45 bridge in Lewisburg. Those hopes were dashed when it was discovered the hard drive, where all data would have been stored, had been removed.

The hard drive was found in October, on the banks of the river, raising hopes again. But it was too badly damaged to yield any data.

Another dead end.

"It was like the needle in the haystack," Zaccagni said.

Rumors, dead ends

There were no indications Gricar was depressed, investigators said, and no evidence of medical problems, no apparent reason for him to intentionally disappear. Other rumors circulated and theories abounded, but investigators eventually followed those ideas to more dead ends.

Madeira, when he took office in January, called a meeting of investigators to go over every aspect of the case. And while he vows the investigation will continue, he left the meeting believing everything possible has been done to find the prosecutor.

Friends such as Goodall are left to puzzle over whether Gricar was murdered, inexplicably committed suicide, or intentionally disappeared.

"It would be really out of character for Ray to intentionally disappear," Goodall said. "I find it very hard to believe Ray left willingly. Personally, I don't know. I really haven't come to any conclusion on it."

Pete Bosak can be reached at 235-3928.

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