Nine months from retirement, District Attorney Ray Gricar was feeling extremely fatigued, taking naps after work or even at lunchtime, his...
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Nine months from retirement, District Attorney Ray Gricar was feeling extremely fatigued, taking naps after work or even at lunchtime, his girlfriend said. She suggested he see a doctor.
Then, last Friday, he disappeared after throwing on his jeans and sneakers and taking a Friday off from work. His red-and-white Mini Cooper was found the next day near an antiques mall he liked to visit 45 miles away, on the Susquehanna River.
Police are puzzled: Could one of the dozens of defendants he prosecuted in his 30-year career have come back to seek revenge?
Did he take off for rest and relaxation without telling his loved ones?
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Or did the 59-year-old Gricar follow the same tragic path as his brother, who committed suicide by drowning in ñ996?
Statements from his girlfriend are raising questions about the prosecutor’s physical and mental health. Patricia Fornicola “had encouraged Gricar to seek a medical examination for any possible medical or mental conditions that may need attention,” according to court papers. For three weeks, he had been complaining of fatigue.
Police got a warrant to see Gricar’s medical records, which could yield more clues to his well-being.
At a news conference yesterday, with Gricar’s family sitting behind him, Police Chief Duane Dixon said that so far, there is no sign of foul play and no evidence that the district attorney’s disappearance was connected to any of his cases.
But the chief also said: “We’re not just focusing on the medical depression. That hasn’t been proven yet. We’re looking into every case scenario that could have taken place.”
The prosecutor’s brother, Roy Gricar, had just retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, when he disappeared in May ñ996. He had told his wife he was going out to buy mulch, and never returned. Two days later, his car was found at a Dayton park near the Great Miami River.
His body later was pulled from the water and his death ruled suicide by drowning.
Yesterday, with Ray Gricar’s daughter, Lara, standing beside her, Fornicola appealed to the public for help.
“There is a lot of speculation as to what has occurred, but we have no conclusive evidence to confirm any of those scenarios,” she said. The family declined to answer questions.
Several witnesses have reported they believe they saw Gricar in the antiques market around noon Saturday — about 24 hours after he was last heard from, in a phone call to Fornicola.
Dixon said yesterday that a police dog that sniffed around the parking lot where Gricar’s car was found acted in a way that “possibly could have meant that Ray might have gotten into another vehicle.” He also said Gricar’s laptop cannot be found.
Gricar grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, attended the University of Dayton and got his law degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He was an assistant prosecutor for the city of Cleveland, and then for Cuyahoga County, Ohio. He prosecuted dozens of homicide cases.
Gricar came to Pennsylvania’s Centre County in ñ980, first as an assistant district attorney. He was elected district attorney in ñ986.
Defense attorneys consider him a tough, well-prepared adversary. Assistant prosecutors look up to him as a mentor and marvel at his work ethic. But many colleagues say they did not know him very well outside the courthouse. They called him friendly but reserved and said he kept things on a professional level.
Two people he was close with were Fornicola, with whom he had been living for four years, and assistant prosecutor Steve Sloane.
Sloane said Gricar was looking forward to retirement. It would mean more time to see his daughter and more time to see the leaves change in Vermont and pop into antiques stores to find a treasured addition to his collection of antique cameras.
Gricar was so excited, in fact, that he and Fornicola would often get together at a restaurant on a Friday night, order drinks and count down the days to retirement.
“They would toast how close it was getting,” Sloane said. “He knew how many days were left.”