On the afternoon of April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar was about 50 miles from where his Mini was found, driving an unknown car, maybe. This is the “Courthouse Sighting,” also known as the “Fenton Sighting” or the “Fenton/Grine sighting.” It could very well end up being one of the key pieces of eyewitness testimony to explain what happened to Mr. Gricar.
The account first became public in May 2006, in Mr. Peter Bosak’s “Missed Leads” article (he mails me a dollar every time I mention his name, well, at least he should); the police knew about it in the first week after Mr. Gricar’s disappearance. It is the account of a witness, the law clerk (and now Assistant District Attorney) Carolyn Fenton (now Larabee, as she’s since married). What is not in that story, but was discussed publicly after that, was a partial confirmation of the account by Judge (now President Judge) David E. Grine.
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Let’s look at what Ms. Fenton saw. “"I see a car leaving the parking lot and the driver was Ray," she said.” This was at about 3:00 PM, according to her memory. The car was not the red Mini Cooper, or his girlfriend’s, Patty Fornicola’s, Honda, but metallic (gold or silver) colored car that Ms. Fenton did not recognize. She looked to see if Ms. Fornicola was with him, but Mr. Gricar was alone. Ms. Fenton was about 15 to 20 feet away when she saw this. http://www.centredaily.com/news/ray_gricar/story/3802.html
Judge Grine was also there on Friday 4/15/05; both he and Ms. Fenton are on the surveillance video of the parking lot. He remembers Mr. Gricar driving the metallic colored car and the approximate time. Judge Grine does not remember the day; even after checking his schedule he cannot be certain of if this was Thursday 4/14/05 or Friday 4/15/05.
Now, let’s look at the background of both witnesses. Ms. Fenton was a judge’s clerk. While that might sound like she’s in charge to taking messages, it isn’t. Clerks serve as researcher for judges. Most are chosen just after the graduate because of there achievements in law school. They are generally the best and the brightest and the position of a clerk is highly sought after. This is possibly the most prestigious first job for an aspiring attorney.
Mr. Bosak (another dollar) has expressed, both publicly and privately, how intelligent Ms. Fenton is. She wouldn’t have been chosen as a clerk if she wasn’t exceptionally intelligent. However, smart people can still misidentify people.
Judge Grine also has an interesting background, though I don’t know if he was ever a law clerk. He does have experience with eyewitness testimony, because he was the District Attorney of Centre County, prior to becoming a judge; he was actually the District Attorney in 1980, when Mr. Gricar was first hired. On 4/15/05, Judge Grine had known Mr. Gricar for about a quarter of a century. Judge Grine, however, was not always an attorney. In the late 1960’s, he was a State College Borough police officer. http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_33669_1581_420484_43/http%3B/pubcontent.state.pa.us/publishedcontent/publish/cop_general_government_operations/dgs/community_content/publications_and_media_services/subcommunities/publications/portlets/vol_118_section_5/vol_118___sec_5___judicial_biographies.pdf
(Warning this is a PDF)
By training, experience, and the fact that he knew Mr. Gricar for so long, Judge Grine should be an outstanding witness, one to whom a lot of weight should be given. If he says he saw Ray Gricar driving an unknown vehicle, behind the Courthouse a 3:00 PM on either Thursday or Friday, and that is supported by another witness, that should be given a huge amount of weight.
The police initially discounted Ms. Fenton’s sighting, because it did not fit the time line. Unless there are substantially more witness accounts that have been unpublished, it does fit the time line. The Packwood Museum witnesses seem to put Mr. Gricar, with the Mini, in Lewisburg in the early afternoon. Mr. McKnight’s witness put him on Route 15 Heading for Lewisburg. The would have ample time, for Mr. Gricar to have acquired another after being seen by the Packwood Museum employees, drive to Bellefonte where he was seen by Ms. Fenton, drive back to the Lewisburg area, and return to the Mini.
Judge Grine did attempt to look at his schedule to determine which day he saw Mr. Gricar, but was unsuccessful.
There are three possibilities with the Fenton sighting:
1. Both Ms. Fenton and Judge Grine were mistaken when they saw Mr. Gricar. I must admit that I find it next to impossible for both, two people that knew Mr. Gricar personally, to make exactly the same mistake. Coupled with the length of time Judge Grine knew Mr. Gricar, and the fact that he, professionally, had to be observant, that might take this above any reasonable doubt standard.
2. Ms. Fenton and Judge Grine did see Mr. Gricar on 4/15/05. This would be exceptionally strong evidence that Mr. Gricar voluntarily left his life behind.
3. Ms. Fenton has the day wrong; she and Judge Grine saw Mr. Gricar on Thursday, 4/14/05. She had left early on Friday, but not on Thursday.
It is this third possibility that may not have been checked. Ms. Fenton was on the Thursday video tape, according to Mr. Bosak’s (I really should be on his payroll by this point) reporting. Was Judge Grine? Where they there together? Were there any electronic records of where Mr. Gricar was at 3:00 PM on Thursday 4/14/05? How about other eyewitnesses, such as the DA’s office staff? Did Mr. Gricar have any reason to be driving another car on 4/14/05, such as having the Mini serviced and getting a “loaner?”
This sighting has the potential of explaining what happened to Mr. Gricar; it obviously points to a voluntary departure (unless it is explained by a “loaner” or something of the sort). If it is accurate, it raises one very important question. Where did Ray Gricar get that metallic colored car?
[I will be tied up with other things this weekend, so I might be slow in responding. Apologies in advance.]