‘There is no good reason for any of this to have occurred,’ DA Cantorna says of shooting
A Bellefonte man had blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal threshold for DUI the January night he shot and killed three people and then himself in State College, borough police said Wednesday.
Capping weeks-long investigations into the shootings, both police and Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna shared new insight into the rampage that began along South Atherton Street.
The gunman, Jordan Witmer, 21, and Nicole Abrino traveled together Jan. 24 to Home D Pizzeria, 1820 S. Atherton St., for dinner and alcoholic drinks, Cantorna said at a press conference.
There were no “red flags” about Witmer, and Abrino, 22, described it as “a normal evening,” Cantorna said.
The two friends traveled from Home D to P.J. Harrigan’s Bar & Grill, 1450 S. Atherton St., where Witmer kept drinking, Cantorna said. Witmer and Abrino were sitting together on one side of the bar, opposite Dean Beachy, 62, and his 19-year-old son Steven, police said.
Witmer eventually left his bar seat, walked downstairs to use the restroom, returned and planned to leave the establishment with Abrino, police said. As he passed the bar, Abrino recounted later, she heard the bartender “say something about a gun,” Cantorna said.
Abrino retrieved Witmer’s coat, tried to hand it to him and said, “Come on — let’s go,” according to the district attorney. Witmer then shot her once in the chest with a 9 mm gun that he was licensed to carry, Cantorna said.
“She was there to make sure that he got home safely,” he said. “She was the designated driver. ... She felt perfectly safe walking up to him and saying, ‘Come on — let’s go home’ after hearing somebody mention the fact that he had a gun.”
Abrino saw the second shot — which followed “immediately” — that killed Dean Beachy, then dialed 911, fell to the floor and handed her phone to the bartender — whom she knew — to complete the call, Cantorna said.
Witmer then fatally shot Steven Beachy.
Two others in the bar fled the scene, while a third hid, Cantorna said.
First responders arrived “in an unprecedented time,” in part because they were within walking distance of the bar amid a separate, unrelated investigation, he said.
The bullet that hit Abrino remains lodged in her spine because doctors do not believe they can safely remove it. She is unable to walk unassisted, can’t walk or stand for long periods of time and has lost feeling in her lower extremities, Cantorna said.
“She’s honest; she’s forthright; she’s comfortable speaking about it. She’s looking forward, and she’ll tell you about how hard it is to deal with the physical issues that she’s dealing with,” Cantorna said. “She’s making plans for her future.”
As officers responded to assist Abrino and the Beachys, they discovered Witmer immediately fled the bar, shooting a decorative mannequin on the way out.
“There is no evidence to support that an argument had transpired between Witmer and Abrino, as well as no evidence to suggest that Dean or Steven Beachy were involved with any type of dispute with Witmer and Abrino,” police said.
After fleeing the bar, Witmer crashed his vehicle at the intersection of Waupelani Drive and Tussey Lane about 32 minutes after the shootings were reported. Police canvassed the area, finding Witmer about 28 minutes later at 748 Tussey Lane.
Police said Witmer shot his way into the residence, fatally shot homeowner George McCormick, 82, and fatally shot himself in the living room. Witmer had no relationship with the McCormicks and randomly chose their home after he crashed his vehicle, police reaffirmed Wednesday.
“None of the victims of this crime deserved what occurred,” Cantorna said. “They didn’t do anything to provoke anything. In Ms. Abrino’s case, she was actually making sure somebody got home safe and stepped in, not thinking anything like this would occur, and actually put herself in harm’s way.”
There are no eyewitnesses to say how long Witmer was in the residence before the shootings there, Cantorna said.
Witmer’s blood alcohol content was recorded at 0.223, and no drugs were found in his system, police said. The threshold for DUI in Pennsylvania is 0.08.
The state Liquor Control Board is aware of the incidents, Cantorna said when asked if Home D or Harrigan’s employees could be charged or cited for serving alcohol to Witmer.
“In Pennsylvania, unlike a lot of different places, there is no regulation prohibiting guns in bars,” Cantorna said. “Nor are there any regulations prohibiting drinking and using guns.”
Cantorna said he spoke with county representatives about the perceived issue because “law enforcement does not want to deal with individuals in an intoxicated state with a weapon.” He declined further questions, saying he would leave it up to the greater community.
Witmer did not have any reported mental health conditions or treatments; there is no video of the incident; and there is no evidence that the shootings were premeditated, Cantorna said.
Both police and the district attorney’s office said they concluded their investigations.
Crash, arrest before shootings
Ten days before the shootings, Witmer pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors related to a DUI crash in Kentucky, according to records obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader, a sister publication of the Centre Daily Times.
Witmer disregarded an Elkton, Kentucky, stop sign Oct. 18 and nearly struck two other vehicles as he drove about 80 mph in a white Ram pickup, according to a citation filed by the Todd County Sheriff Department. He exited the vehicle on foot and walked into a wooded area about 7:23 p.m., according to the filing.
Military uniforms and other military-issued items were found inside the vehicle, according to the citation. Witmer was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in December.
Police contacted the Army about the incident. Cantorna said he does not believe Witmer served in any combat details.
A sheriff’s deputy later found Witmer with abrasions, cuts and scrapes that were consistent with a car crash, according to the citation. Witmer also had bloodshot eyes and carried a strong odor of alcohol, according to the filing.
He told a deputy that he was “too drunk (to) know where I am,” according to the citation.
Witmer’s blood alcohol content then was reported at 0.171. He was charged with two felony counts of wanton endangerment, one misdemeanor count of leaving the scene of an accident and one misdemeanor count of DUI with aggravating circumstances.
Stephanie Ritchie-Mize, Witmer’s attorney, sought to have the charges dismissed in November, arguing that he was not operating a vehicle when he was arrested and that the arrest was based on evidence obtained after the officer approached the vehicle, not poor driving, according to a court document.
The case was resolved Jan. 14.