Special Reports

Hard drive fails to help Gricar case

Experts were unable to pull any data off a hard drive thought to belong to Ray Gricar's county-issued laptop because of the heavy damage it sustained in the months since the district attorney's disappearance.

The news dashed local investigators' hopes that the hard drive, found in October along the banks of the Susquehanna River, might give them a better picture of the circumstances surrounding Gricar's April disappearance.

"They got it apart and cleaned it," Zaccagni said. "But it was so damaged ... the water and grit pretty much destroyed it."

After the hard drive was found in Lewisburg, state police attempted to examine it but were unsuccessful. They sent the hard drive to the Secret Service in Philadelphia, who forwarded it to a special lab in California run as a joint effort among the Secret Service, the FBI and the Los Angeles police.

Zaccagni, who spoke to a Secret Service agent Thursday, said experts say they are almost certain they will be unable to retrieve any information off the hard drive, although they plan to try "one or two other things they've never done before" before giving up. He expects to receive an official report and the hard drive within the next week.

Special Agent J.J. Klaver, based in Philadelphia, said the FBI does not comment on another agency's cases nor on ongoing investigations. He said he could not confirm that the FBI ever analyzed the hard drive found in Lewisburg.

Calls to the Secret Service office in Philadelphia were not returned Thursday.

Gricar was last heard from about 11:30 a.m. April 15, when he called his office and spoke to girlfriend and housemate Patty Fornicola. She said he told her he was taking a drive in the couple's red-and-white Mini Cooper. She called police to report him missing about 12 hours later. The car was found in a Lewisburg parking lot a day later.

Police are still treating Gricar's disappearance as a missing persons case, because there is no strong information pointing to homicide, suicide or any other type of death.

Because experts were unable to access any information from the hard drive, police can't even confirm that the hard drive came from Gricar's laptop computer. The computer, minus its hard drive, was found by fishermen in the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg in July. The hard drive was later found about 100 yards from where the computer was found. It is the same make and model as the laptop.

"It looks like a duck and walks like a duck, but it won't quack for us," Zaccagni said. "We're pretty much right where we were before -- nothing."

The news didn't surprise Fornicola and Gricar's nephew, Tony Gricar.

"We're all pretty nonplussed by it," Tony Gricar said. "It seems to be the way everything goes in this case."

Fornicola said she knew the hard drive was damaged but still was hoping experts would be able to pull some information from it.

Where the investigation goes from here is anyone's guess. Bellefonte police have received no new tips about the case, Zaccagni said. They continue to look into names they've received as "people of interest," but Zaccagni declined to give specifics. He said the department is not planning to take a harder look at Gricar's previous and pending cases, which span two decades.

"Bellefonte just doesn't have the manpower to go through the thousands of cases," Zaccagni said.

He added that he welcomed any help from outside agencies, including the U.S. Justice Department. State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, sent a letter Dec. 2 to that agency asking for investigators there to take a closer look at Gricar's disappearance.

Police are planning a meeting soon to review the case. Taking part in the meeting will be the borough's new police chief, Shawn Weaver, and Michael Madeira, who will succeed Gricar as district attorney in January, Zaccagni said.

"It'll be a chance to review where we've been and bounce ideas off new people," Zaccagni said. "They might have new ideas, too."

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