Witness: Tracks not from pickup
Testimony in Ross trial focuses on vehicle marks found in area near body
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Vehicle tracks observed in a grassy area of Canoe Creek State Park, close to where Tina S. Miller’s body was found in 2004, were likely created by a riding mower, witnesses told a jury Tuesday in Blair County Court.
In challenging a defensive theory offered on behalf of Paul Aaron Ross of Hollidaysburg, who is on trial for first-degree murder and related sexual assault charges, prosecution witnesses rejected the idea that the tracks could have been created by a white pickup truck whose driver Ross claimed met up with Miller a few hours before she was found dead.
Randy Mocello, a retired state police crime laboratory examiner, told the jury that based on information he collected, those tracks were made by a lawn tractor or some other smaller vehicle.
Mocello, who referenced the noticeable tracks on video captured by investigating state police troopers, also based his conclusion on what he described as tight turns accomplished by the same vehicle.
“That’s the area where I cut grass,” 76-year old Robert Sollenberger told the jury as he reviewed police photographs and video of the grassy area.
Sollenberger said that in 2004, he was using one of two multi-terrain vehicles to mow an area across from his Beaverdam Road property, near where Miller’s body was found.
To access the area he mows, Sollenberger said he takes his multi-terrain vehicle through the grassy area.
The impressions left behind, Sollenberger said, would have been more pronounced when the multi-terrain vehicles had their chains on.
State trooper David Clemens said when he stopped at Sollenberger’s residence during a followup investigation in 2014, he saw the vehicles used for mowing. Clemens said he took time to measure the tires, then forwarded the details, along with photographs, to Mocello for his review.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas Dickey asked Mocello if he was provided with impressions taken from the ground by the investigating officers. The police did collect footprint impressions in other locations of the park.
Mocello, in response to Dickey, said he wouldn’t have expected to receive impressions of the vehicle tracks or tire tread marks because the area was grassy.
Dickey, in turn, pointed out that Mocello had never visited the scene.
In other testimony Tuesday, state police forensic scientist Robert E. Elsavage testified that the duct tape used to bind Miller’s wrists and found around her head could have come from a roll of duct tape found near her body at the edge of the park’s lake.
A microscopic examination of that duct tape, he said, permitted him to identify similarities in color, texture and thread counts. But it offered no evidence of a physical match, he said, which would have linked a piece of the duct tape to the tape on the roll.
Elsavage also testified, on cross examination, that a roll of duct tape police collected at Ross’ residence was different from the duct tape around Miller’s wrists and head.
State police charged Ross in Miller’s death after an investigation identifying him as the last person seen with Miller. A friend who invited them to his Scotch Valley residence in the early morning hours of June 27, 2004, gave them a ride and dropped them off at the state park, close to Ross’ residence.
Ross, who has maintained his innocence, told investigating police officers that a man driving a white pickup truck showed up at the park to get Miller and that the man was angry with Miller upon seeing him.
Stacey Hamilton of Williamsburg testified that Ross told her about the encounter later that day when he accompanied her on some errands.
“He said he was hit on the head by her boyfriend,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also recalled that Ross had a paper bag with him which he threw in a store’s trash can during one of the errands. She said she didn’t see what was in the bag.
In criminal charges against Ross, police allege that Ross beat Miller, dragged her through brush, restrained her with duct tape, sodomized her with a capped beer bottle, then strangled and drowned her. Her partly clothed body was found on the edge of the park.
Testimony continues today in the case, which is scheduled to wrap up this week.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.