Search suspended for missing North Bethlehem man

June 11, 2014
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Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter
Dan Halliday and his search dog, Rocko, return after looking for George Pochiba, who left his North Bethlehem home Tuesday night. In the background, Renee Riggs holds her search dog, Jebidiah, while speaking to Pochiba’s family as they wait for updates Wednesday morning. Shown above is George Pochiba. Order a Print
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Linda Ritzer/Observer-Reporter
George Pochiba went missing Tuesday night from his home at 13 Crescent Road, Scenery Hill. Order a Print
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Mike Jones/Observer-Reporter
Police and firefighters gather near the Crescent Road home of George Pochiba to resume the search for the missing man Wednesday. Order a Print
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George Pochiba

After receiving news that the search for an missing elderly North Bethlehem Township man was suspended Wednesday evening, many who spent the day looking for him lingered near his Crescent Road home.

As they slowly packed up their gear, people occasionally stopped to conduct a quick, final search of the surrounding area. Those with dogs let their animals sniff around, hoping to pick up on something missed. Neighbor and family friend Tom Naylor couldn’t help but think of what could have happened to George Pochiba.

“We’re thinking someone picked him up,” Naylor said.

Like many others, Naylor was disappointed the search for Pochiba was suspended.

“I’ve been out since morning,” he said. “This has to be hard on the family. Having someone tell you they can’t do any more.”

The search for Pochiba, who suffers from dementia, was suspended about 5 p.m. Wednesday after a full-day search of the rural area failed to locate him. The man was reported missing by his family Tuesday night after he left his home at 13 Crescent Road for a walk and did not return.

The family began searching for Pochiba Tuesday night, and firefighters, state police and numerous search dogs were brought in Wednesday to assist. The search was suspended due to incoming storms and because police exhausted all leads on where he might have gone.

State police Lt. Paul Radatovich said the search will resume if new leads become available.

Pochiba, 88, told his wife, Karen, that he was “going to the farm to feed the animals” Tuesday night, although the family doesn’t live on a farm. However, relatives said that was common for him to say since he was raised on a farm and tended to horses while growing up.

His niece, Carol Logar, said it was unusual for him to stray far from his home at 13 Crescent Road and that they knew something was wrong by 8 p.m. when he had not returned.

A neighbor told the family he saw someone walking Tuesday night on nearby Wonsettler Road. That prompted the family to call state police in Washington and begin searching the area on their own. The organized search continued until about 4 a.m. Wednesday before the teams were told to go home.

They returned about 9 a.m. and continued searching, this time with dozens of volunteer firefighters and state police troopers, at least 15 rescue dogs and even several members of a local Boy Scout troop.

“They’re doing an amazing job,” Logar said. “Everyone has gone above and beyond. All we can do is pray for the best.”

Pochiba’s comment to his wife before leaving led the search teams to focus on nearby barns and farmland as they swept through the rural fields and a state police helicopter hovered over the Wonsettler Road farm, where Pochiba had last been seen.

“It’s a rural area so he could be wandering in many directions,” state police Trooper Stefani Plume said.

Plume added that conditions were favorable Wednesday for searchers and that they think Pochiba could have survived overnight. She added that he has no known medical problems besides dementia.

Each team of search dogs was accompanied by firefighters and, in one case, five Scouts and their leaders from Troop 1419 in Bentleyville. Scoutmaster Rob Michalow said they saw the situation on the news and wanted to do something to help. Lisa Pilarcik, an assistant scoutmaster, added that this was a new experience for the Scouts.

“They’re used to hiking, but not necessarily search and rescue,” Pilarcik said.

Renee Riggs, who was searching for Pochiba with her bloodhound, Jebidiah, said they tracked what they thought was his scent near the Wonsettler Farm before losing it. She and other handlers regularly rotated their dogs in and out of the search because of the warm temperatures and humid weather Wednesday afternoon.

Naylor and other neighbors said they would continue to search the area for Pochiba. They are trying to maintain a positive outlook and do all they can to support his family.

Pochiba is 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighs about 130 pounds with balding white hair, and was last seen wearing blue Dickie pants and a blue and gray flannel shirt. Anyone with information is asked to call 911.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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