Missing district attorney seen?

Police say two witnesses 'sure' they spotted him in Wilkes-Barre

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- He remembers a man in a suit and tie talking about baseball, as a game played in the background. The man, who was alone and appeared healthy and normal, told him how he'd grown up in Cleveland and loved to watch the Indians play.

Ray Gricar  

They spoke for only about five minutes, but the man made enough of an impression that the person he'd spoken to realized four days later that he'd talked to missing Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.

The witness, who police would not identify, contacted authorities April 22, telling them that he spoke with Gricar at a business on Highland Park Boulevard in Wilkes-Barre on the evening of April 18, three days after Gricar was reported missing.

Police received the tip a week ago, but only talked about it publicly for the first time yesterday at a news conference.

After police began investigating the man's claims, they found another witness from the same place who corroborated the sighting. Before this information came to light, the last verified sighting of Gricar was on the afternoon of April 16 in Lewisburg.

"At this point, we have to take it as credible," said Bellefonte Police Chief Duane Dixon. He said both witnesses, after viewing photographs and video of Gricar, were 100 percent sure that's who they saw. No one in Gricar's family knew of any reason he'd have been in Wilkes-Barre.

Despite the new sightings, Dixon said they have not changed the thrust of the investigation. Police are still checking into the possibilities that Gricar is the victim of foul play, or left of his own accord.

"It gives us more hope than we had in the past that he's out there and alive," Dixon said.

Gricar last spoke to his family the morning of April 15, when he called his live-in girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, and told her he was taking the day off. When he called he was driving his red Mini Cooper through the countryside. Police found it later the next day parked in a dirt lot near antiques shops in Lewisburg, along the Susquehanna River.

For the first time yesterday, Gricar's family, who have attended every news conference, took questions from the media.

Fornicola said her last morning with Gricar before he disappeared was like every other. They didn't argue, and though he took the day off, she expected to find him at home at the end of her workday. She didn't notice any of his suits missing.

Gricar's daughter, Lara, said she last spoke with her dad the day before he disappeared.

"I just called to say 'I love you, Dad,' " Lara Gricar recalled. "He said, 'Sweetie, I love you, too.' "

She described their relationship as close and said they normally spoke with each other by telephone about three times each week. Though she lives in Seattle, Lara Gricar, 27, said they spent about four weeks together each year, with her dad visiting her twice, and her making the trip back to Pennsylvania twice.

Barbara Gray, Gricar's ex-wife, called her former husband "a person of incredibly high integrity who was a devoted father."

Gricar, who was elected district attorney in 1985, was planning to retire this year at the end of his term. Fornicola, too, was going to stop working, and the couple planned to drive across the country, visiting with Lara and taking their time, "enjoying life and being together," Fornicola said.

The family announced creation of a $10,000 reward fund, established through donations of family and friends, for information that leads to Gricar's return or the arrest of anyone responsible for committing a crime against him.

Since the investigation began, officers have contacted bus lines, cab companies and rental car agencies to see if Gricar used any of those methods to travel, Dixon said, but they've had no luck. There has been no activity on any of Gricar's credit cards or bank accounts.

Paula Reed Ward can be reached at pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.


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