Meadville Tribune

May 14, 2013

Suspect arrested in man found near burning van

By Joe Pinchot
Meadville Tribune

PINE TOWNSHIP, Mercer County — State police on Monday arrested Ralph L. Young in the death of his brother-in-law, David A. Dignall, whose burned body was found outside his minivan with a shotgun blast in the back on Dec. 20 in French Creek Township in northern Mercer County, which borders Crawford County.

Young, 45, of Franklin, was arrested at about 12:30 p.m. at a wood products business in Cochranton on charges of first- and third-degree murder, reckless burning, possession of incendiary material and abuse of a corpse, police said.

Young, wearing work boots and soiled work clothing, was arraigned by District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township, and sent to Mercer County Jail.

Young’s attorney, Alexander H. Lindsay Jr., Butler, argued that Young was eligible for bond because he had not been convicted, but McEwen disagreed.

“It’s a nonbailable offense,” McEwen said.

After the arraignment, Lindsay said he could not comment on the case.

“We’ll just have to see what they have at the preliminary hearing,” Lindsay said.

McEwen set the hearing for May 22 at 10:15 a.m. Most of the evidence outlined in the criminal complaint and accompanying affidavit of probable cause had become publicly available in January, in affidavits for search warrants.

The additional piece of evidence that apparently tipped the case in favor of filing charges was the matching of Young’s DNA with DNA found on a milk jug found at the scene. State police received a report on results from DNA tests Wednesday, and filed the complaint and obtained an arrest warrant Monday.

Dignall, 58, of 28 Blair Lane, Carlton, left Dignall’s Auto Parts, the Cochranton store he owned with his brother, just after 5 p.m. Dec. 20, police said. Dignall was found dead not long after on Hollobaugh Road, east of Cochranton Road, outside a minivan owned by another family company, Jim’s Auto Sales of Cochranton, said police, who were called at 5:28 p.m.

Dignall was identified from his driver’s license and the Crawford County coroner, who knew Dignall, police said. Dignall’s body was severely burned, police said.

Red-dyed fuel was found on the ground, along with two gallon milk jugs that contained red-dyed fuel and a wooden stick with cloth that appeared to be a homemade torch, police said.

Dignall died of a single shotgun blast to the center of his back, the Mercer County Coroner’s Office said. The fire did not contribute to Dignall’s death, but it might have been started in an attempt to cover up the shooting, investigators said.

Dignall’s family members identified Young as someone who had been having a dispute with Dignall over the previous few months, police said. The dispute involved property and finances, police said.

Young was interviewed on Dec. 21 at 7 a.m. and admitted he had called Dignall’s cellphone at about the time of the incident, and to being in the general area at the time, police said.

When interviewed, Young sported a goatee, wore a blue plaid shirt and blue pants, and reported that he was 5 feet, 11 inches tall, police said.

A witness told police he saw a man at about the time of the incident standing at Hollobaugh and Cochranton. The man possibly had a beard, stood about 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall, and wore a blue plaid shirt and blue pants.

The witness was driving behind Dignall when they passed the man, police said. The witness said he saw Dignall pull off the road and turn around to go back in the direction of the man, police said. The witness continued home, police said.

Police searched Young’s home Dec. 21 and seized a 30-gallon drum of red-dyed diesel fuel. Young’s family members told police that Young had gone to his mother’s home in Utica three times Dec. 20 and that a shotgun stored there was missing, police said.

The shotgun was not found when police searched Young’s home, police said. Young provided a DNA sample on March 27.

Pinchot is a reporter with The (Sharon) Herald, which, like The Meadville Tribune, is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.