Orders meant to curb violence
Protection-from-abuse orders can be used to curb abuse or keep it from reoccurring.
Cheryl Gonsman of Family Services Inc., whose agency operates the PFA office in the Blair County Courthouse, said that Blair County last year had 600 protection-from-abuse cases that went to the courts and few of those cases ended in death.
However, this area of Pennsylvania has seen other cases that did end in deadly violence.
On Thursday, retired state trooper Mark R. Miscavish, 51, of Philipsburg went to his wife’s place of employment and killed her, then turned the gun on himself. Traci A. Miscavish, his estranged wife, was 49.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said her office was devastated because Miscavish was under a PFA and had recently been released from jail after he beat his wife and made threats to kill himself.
“The District Attorney’s Office opposed this release, noting the violent nature of the incident, the gun involvement, and the victim’s extreme fear of the defendant, but he was released over the District Attorney’s and the victim’s objection,” she said.
Blair County experienced a death in November that stemmed from a PFA case, when Aaron Wilson Dishong, 62, of East Freedom set a house in Altoona on fire, believing his estranged girlfriend was inside. Although the woman was not there, the arson claimed the life of a 3-year-old boy.
Dishong hung himself three weeks later in the Blair County Prison.
Gonsman said that what is occurring in Blair and other counties with respect to domestic violence is not a problem with the courts.
And, she said, “It’s not the gun.”
Gonsman suggested that police and the community in general should begin to listen to what the victims of abuse are saying – as well as what they are not saying.
Officials may be impressed, she said, if the abusive husband or boyfriend sends flowers to the abuse victim, which could be seen as a nice gesture.
But maybe the flowers are coming with an unspoken message that the woman is fearful to reveal, that the next time they get long-stemmed red roses, “your number is up.”
Although she said police are busy, she said they need to go the extra mile in a PFA case. If a man keeps harassing his wife by constantly driving past her home, if police take an extra five minutes to speak to him, it might prevent a tragedy.
Although the man might not be doing anything illegal, a conversation letting him know he is pushing the limits can relay the message that he is no longer in control.
In the state of Washington, Gonsman said a judge is allowed to impose a PFA if the man or alleged perpetrator threatens to commit suicide. She said that is because if a man in that situation is contemplating killing himself, it means he likely is planning to kill the woman first.
She said a PFA won’t stop someone who intends to kill his victim and himself, but she said more vigilance and understanding of what the victim is going through might.
“Judges need to put themselves in a person’s shoes,” she said.
The Miscavish case occurred just five days after 52-year-old Kenneth Robert Ayers of McAlevy’s Fort killed his 2-year-old son, shot his wife, Hollie, and then drove to another location to kill himself. That incident occurred during a supervised visit with his son at his mother’s house near Petersburg.
Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday recognized the seriousness of domestic violence when he proposed an increase of $1.3 million in state funds to support domestic abuse shelters, counseling and legal services for the victims.
The Associated Press reported that domestic violence in Pennsylvania claimed the lives of 110 victims and 31 perpetrators – the majority by guns – last year. It cited figures from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Christine Price of Bigler worked with Traci Miscavish at the County Market in Peebles Plaza near Philipsburg, where Miscavish was killed. She spoke Thursday afternoon outside the market.
“You shouldn’t have to die to get out of a relationship,” Price said.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468. Staff writer Kay Stephens also contributed to this story.