Belmont Democrats report bomb threat

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A Martins Ferry man is accused of sending a bomb threat to a scheduled meeting of the Belmont County Democratic Party in July.

According to the Belmont County Prosecutor’s Office and court records, Geary Battistelli, 67, of 237 N. Zane Highway, Martins Ferry faces a charge of inducing panic, a first-degree misdemeanor. He is scheduled to appear for arraignment Sept. 4 in Belmont County Northern Division Court before Judge Chris Berhalter.

The Democratic meeting was held July 14 at the Undo’s meeting room in St. Clairsville. County Party Chairman Phil Wallace said a threat was emailed.

“We did have a bomb threat, and apparently it was Geary Battistelli,” Wallace said, referring to the charge against the man.

“I was on my way back from Baltimore, Maryland, and got a call from the prosecutor. It said that there was a bomb threat for our meeting on the next night,” Wallace said. “It bothered me a whole lot. I tried to follow up as much as possible. I contacted the sheriff’s office and I talked to them.

“We did have a bomb dog there to clean the area. The evening worked out well. There were a few people who knew about it at the time, but not very many. I didn’t want to induce any panic at our meeting. I did not say anything at the time, but I think mostly everybody knows about it now. Everybody in the Democrat Party,” Wallace continued.

Belmont County Treasurer Kathy Kelich, a Democrat, said the party members conducted business as usual, adding that she personally did not believe the threat was serious.

“Nothing was canceled. Everything went forward. We had a K-9 unit. We brought it to the attention of Sheriff (David) Lucas to make sure that everything was secure for the people in the hotel, the people in the restaurant, and every attendee. Sheriff Lucas got right on top of it, sent a K-9 officer out, searched the building and we were good to go,” Kelich said.

She added, however, that party officials could not risk ignoring the threat.

“But not taking a threat seriously, then you’re dismissing it,” she said. “We didn’t want to put people’s lives at stake.”

New county Auditor Anthony Rocchio, a Democrat who was appointed to his post by the party on July 23 and stepped into office July 30, agreed. Rocchio succeeds Roger Conroy, who died before completing his term as auditor.

“You can’t live your life in fear, but at the same time you have to take things seriously,” Rocchio said.