Suspect held for trial in death of Tyrone fire chief

A 29-year-old Nanty Glo man is headed for trial in Cambria County on charges of criminal homicide and aggravated assault against Tyrone’s Neptune Fire Company Chief Ray Stringer.
The charges against George T. Lightcap IV stemmed from an incident in the early morning hours of Aug. 19 at the Nanty Glo VFW. Stringer was in the town for a firefighters convention. The altercation at the VFW took place away from any official convention activities that were held elsewhere in the community.
Members of Stringer’s family sat in the chambers of Magisterial District Judge Mary Ann Zanghi in Vinco on Thursday and heard a witness take the stand to give details about the circumstances leading up to the death of their 43-year-old relative. An eyewitness who later aided Stringer testified about what he heard and saw during his time at the VFW bar. A police officer that responded to the scene also gave testimony regarding his investigation into the incident.
Expert witnesses offered details about the cause and manner of Stringer’s death. A criminal complaint against Lightcap said the Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski had determined Stringer died from asphyxiation by blunt force trauma. He testified in court that the manner of Stringer’s death was a homicide. He noted cause of death included asphyxiation related to head trauma, blunt force trauma, shock due to blood loss and bludgeoning.
Kwiatkowski testified he is not a medical physician and said he based his findings on an autopsy done by pathologist John Yerger and the overall investigation.
Yerger testified that blows to Stringer’s head caused brain injury that led to his death. On cross examination by defense attorney Art McQuillan, Yerger said injuries to Stringer’s face could have been caused by one blow and a cut on the back of his head could have occurred when his head hit the floor.
He noted Stringer did not have any injuries to his hands. Yerger said an examination of the hands showed “no remarkable findings.” He said Stringer had no injury to his wrists that might have been present had he tried to protect himself from a fall. The pathologist also testified Stringer had no injuries to his torso. He said Stringer weighed 291 pounds and was six feet tall.
Stringer’s blood alcohol content was .20. However, a separate analysis from a lab came back with a .176 reading. Tests showed no drugs were present in his system.
The suspect in the case consented to a blood alcohol test at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center on the morning of the incident. Lightcap’s BAC was .13, according to officials. The suspect was treated at the hospital for facial injuries. Nanty Glo police officer Steven Szymusiak testified he noticed Lightcap had a swollen eye and cuts on his right hand when he saw the suspect around 3 o’clock on the morning of the incident.
Szymusiak responded to the scene at the VFW at 1:18 a.m. The first 9-1-1 call about the incident came at 1:15 a.m. Szymusiak said he was alerted while on another call at 1:16 a.m. An ambulance arrived at the scene at 1:20 a.m. Stringer was transported by medical helicopter to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center where he died at 2:24 a.m.
Szymusiak testified a witness at the bar gave him Lightcap’s name. He also testified a bartender, Michele Lightcap, told him George Lightcap was the other individual involved. Michele Lightcap said Stringer had started the incident.
Lightcap was taken into custody at another location, according to Szymusiak. The officer said that Lightcap told him, “I can’t believe I’m the one in handcuffs when he started it.”
Frank Riglin of Bellefonte also testified at yesterday’s hearing. He had arrived in Nanty Glo for the convention on Thursday evening, Aug. 18 and eventually went to the VFW at around midnight.
He testified when he first entered the bar he noticed Lightcap pounding his fist. Lightcap was seated. According to Riglin, Stringer was standing next to Lightcap and told him to take the fight outside. Riglin testified he did not know either person.
Riglin said two other people entered the bar with him. The three moved to another area of the bar and Riglin said he did not notice any further disturbance between the two men. About an hour later, Riglin said he heard an argument in the bar and Lightcap and Stringer were in the same area. Lightcap was seated and Stringer was standing and doing most of the talking. A bartender told Stringer to leave. Stringer left the bar area. Lightcap got up from his seat and went toward a door leading to a foyer between the inside and outside door of the basement bar. Riglin testified Stringer was standing with his back to the bar and when he turned around he was “hit smack in the face.” Riglin said Stringer went down to the floor and Lightcap struck Stringer three or four times.
Riglin, who is an EMT, went to Stringer’s aid. Riglin testified Lightcap said he only threw one punch and then the suspect left the bar. He told Lightcap not to leave after noticing the severe nature of Stringer’s injury.
During his time at the VFW, Riglin said he did not see Stringer throw a punch.
Near the conclusion of yesterday’s hearing, defense attorneys asked that charges be dismissed while prosecutors contended they had presented reasonable and probable cause to establish a prima fascia case. Judge Zanghi agreed and the charges against Lightcap were bound to Cambria County Court.
After the hearing prosecutor Gary Costlow said, “It’s obvious we have a prima fascia case, we have a death and we have a person involved in an altercation.”
Defense attorney Robert Gleason said, “I don’t think we have a first degree murder case, it’s a self defense case, which would mean acquittal.”
Gleason said the prosecution’s own witness said Mr. Stringer prompted the initial contact. He said, “It’s a justifiable claim of self defense.”
Gleason said he would make a petition for bail for his client within a month. Lightcap has been held since his arrest on Aug. 19 and was remanded to Cambria County Prison after yesterday’s hearing.
Costlow said the testimony “didn’t seem to establish self defense.” He said prosecutors would continue with a general charge of homicide. Costlow said it has yet to be determined what penalty prosecutors would seek in the case.
After the hearing, Stringer’s family members declined to make any comment.