MOUNT MORRIS – A Mount Morris Police Officer stopped a driver on April 5 who would in the following days be arrested for a gruesome Pennsylvania homicide.
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Mount Morris Police Officer Melody Moore happened to be behind the station wagon southbound on Rte. 36 and called in to the 911 Center at about 3 p.m. to report that it was driving 70 mph towards Main Street with its hazard lights on, passing in a no-passing zone. Officer Zachary Hinkson pulled over and ticketed the driver, Graham Nicholas Norby-Vardac, 23, for Unlicensed Operator, an infraction.
“He was definitely nervous,” said Hinkson. “I did have him step out of the vehicle and conducted a roadside interview. He had a short-sleeve shirt on and gloves, which in hindsight were probably to cover up any fingerprints. He had a Virginia permit only with no suspensions. He told me the vehicle was his grandfather’s, and that he had permission to use the vehicle.”
Hinkson said that he didn’t have the vehicle towed because it appeared that the young man was living out of this car.
“I used some discretion on that call based on the information I had at the time,” said Hinkson. “I thought of it as towing somebody’s house. So I gave him the ticket and released him. We can’t treat everyone we meet in the police world as homicide suspects. If we did, our complaints would be through the roof. I was as shocked as everyone else to hear the updates on this.”
That update came about 18 hours later from Pennsylvania State Police when they notified local law enforcement that a vehicle matching that description belonged to an 82-year-old homicide victim.
“If that alert had come in to us 18 hours earlier, that traffic stop would have gone a lot differently,” said Hinkson. “But I made the decisions based on the information available at the time.”
Local news site PennLive later reported that Norby-Vardac was detained by Canadian officials at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo trying to get over the Canadian border at 11 a.m. April 6.
According to PennLive, Pennsylvania Troopers said that Norby-Vardac identified himself as the grandson of the deceased, Donald Kleese Jr., as he did with Hinkson. However, Kleese and Norby-Vardac are not related and there is no known affiliation between them.
PennLive reported information from Canadian officials that Norby-Vardac was allegedly acting erratically by doing pushups while in the lobby of the building where he was taken.
Norby-Vardac is charged in Pennsylvania with Criminal Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Robbery, Possession of an Instrument of Crime, Criminal Mischief and Theft.
“That’s what we tell our officers all the time, and everyone who works in law enforcement knows this to be true,” said Mount Morris Police Chief Ken Mignemi. “You never know who you’re going to meet when you walk up to that window on a traffic stop, what is going on in that person’s mind or what they may have done or are about to do.”