Special Reports

Gricar family, friends hold on to hope

BELLEFONTE -- One year after former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar disappeared, the man who replaced him said it will take a bit of good fortune to determine what became of the man.

"It would take that lucky stroke or fortuitous lead," District Attorney Michael Madeira said at a news conference Friday morning in Bellefonte. "We would take a stroke of luck."

Gricar took the day off on April 15, 2005. That day, he called his live-in girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, to tell her he was taking a drive on state Route 192 toward Lewisburg. He has been neither seen nor heard from since. His car was found a day later in a parking lot in Lewisburg.

"I've never given up hope," Fornicola, who still works in the district attorney's office, said at the news conference. "It helps me go on. I have to pull myself together because I have to go on."

Authorities say the investigation into the disappearance -- a probe that has involved Bellefonte police, State College police, state police, the state attorney general's office, the FBI, the Secret Service and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department -- is no closer to determining what happened to Gricar than it was a year ago.

"What is important for people to know," Madeira said, "is that over time, as the leads grow cold, the interest of law enforcement, my interest, as well as the public's interest in this case will not."

Darrel Zaccagni, the Bellefonte officer who has been leading the investigation, admits he is frustrated. "The leads are getting far and few between," he said. "So where do we go?"

Police have pursued a plethora of reported Gricar sightings, all discounted.

Talk Friday centered on the red-and-white Mini Cooper he was driving. It was found in Lewisburg, its doors locked and its windows rolled up. Minute traces of cigarette ash were found on the passenger-side floor, Zaccagni said.

Gricar did not smoke and would not allow anyone to smoke in the car, Fornicola said.

"When (police) initially opened the car, there was a whiff of cigarette smoke," Zaccagni said.

Police said Friday that they recently had secured DNA samples from cigarette butts found near Gricar's car. But when that DNA was entered into national databases, police hit yet another dead end.

"There is nobody who matches that right now," Zaccagni said.

The DNA evidence will be kept, essentially as possible evidence should Gricar turn up dead.

There were other oddities. Gricar taking the day off was not out of the ordinary -- he had decided to "play hooky" the previous afternoon, as well. But acquaintances said taking his laptop computer with him was bizarre.

"I can't recall a time where he took it anywhere," Fornicola said.

About two weeks before he disappeared, Gricar seemed fatigued. He was taking naps during lunch breaks and after dinner, she said.

"I found that highly unusual for Ray," Fornicola said. She pressed him on this, to see if he was OK. "He brushed it off, saying he was just working too much or too hard. I didn't buy it."

Police are still working on the same three theories they've had for months. Not one of the theories is being held as more credible than the others.

"It could be a homicide, it could be a suicide or an intentional disappearance," Zaccagni said. "He is still a missing person."

Authorities stressed that they are not giving up. And Fornicola voiced her support for their efforts while urging that they continue as the one-year anniversary passes.

"If you take away he's the man I love and the man I want to spend the rest of my life with, he was Centre County's chief law enforcement officer," she said. "We need to do everything we can."

Pete Bosak can be reached at 235-3928.