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Boyfriend beating case

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Malicious wounding charges certified to grand jury

By John Barnhart

Judge Kenneth Farrar certified an aggravated malicious wounding charge against a Bedford County woman to the November grand jury.

    Kristina Pongracz was 28 when she was accused on May 4 of beating William Herchenrider, her 77-year-old boyfriend, with whom she lived.  Herchenrider died on August 25 after briefly returning home. According to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Ayers, Herchenrider was under hospice care when he came home.
    Deputy Chris Brown, of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, described the scene he found when called to a Goode home the evening of May 4. He said he found  Herchenrider on the floor, on all fours, bleeding. Pongracz was lying on the floor in her underwear.
    “She had a large amount of blood smeared all over her body,” Brown said.
    “I asked him [ Herchenrider] what happened,” Brown said. “He said, ‘She beat the hell out of me.’”

    According to Brown,  Herchenrider was taken to Bedford Memorial Hospital while Pongracz was taken to Lynchburg General. Later, when Brown went to Lynchburg to interview Pongracz, he found she had already left the hospital on her own. He and another deputy went to Herchenrider’s home and after announcing their presence and getting no response, they let themselves in with a key that  Herchenrider had given them.
    Pongracz told him there had been an altercation and pointed to a small amount of redness around her neck. She said that she was angry with  Herchenrider and that he had come at her with his cane. She said that she pushed it back toward him, but didn’t remember hitting him.
    Brown said that Pongracz told him that  Herchenrider was controlling and verbally abusive but had not been physically abusive. She also said that he had problems with falling and she had called the rescue squad on these occasions to come and pick him up.
    He said that Pongracz told him that she had consumed “a couple of beers” before the altercation.
    According to Brown’s testimony, Pongracz said that she had been with  Herchenrider for 10 years.
    Brown spoke with Herchenrider as he was being taken to the hospital.
    “He stated that he loved her and felt sorry for her,” Brown said.
    According to Brown,  Herchenrider said that he thought that Pongracz is bipolar and has an alcohol and substance abuse problem. He also said that he did not want to testify against her.
    At one point, Webster Hogeland, Pongracz’ defense attorney, objected that Brown’s testimony on what Herchenrider said was hearsay. Ayers countered that, as  Herchenrider is dead, it’s not possible to cross examine him. Judge Farrar agreed to allow Brown’s testimony on what  Herchenrider told him.
    Amy Halterman, a forensic nurse examiner at Bedford Memorial, gave testimony about the extent of  Herchenrider’s injuries. She described multiple bruises and breaks in Herchenrider’s skin on his face, head, arms, torso and legs. According to her testimony, there were wounds on his arms deep enough to expose underlying muscle. She described one wound where the skin was rolled back.  Herchenrider had bloody drainage out of one ear the entire time he was at Bedford Memorial’s ER. She said that he was unable to hear from that ear.
    Halterman said that Herchenrider was bleeding badly from the wounds in his arms and it took them some time to stop it. She said the skin on Herchenrider’s left fore-arm, a place where they would normally insert an IV, was so badly damaged that they couldn’t do it.
    She said that Herchenrider told her that Pongracz had thrown patio furniture at him, and hit him with her hands and his cane. When asked about the injury to one ear,  Herchenrider replied, “She tried to rip the damn thing off.”
    Halterman said that he also said, when questioned about the injury to his arm, that she tried to rip the flesh off.
    According to Halterman,  Herchenrider’s condition deteriorated and he was flown to Roanoke Memorial Hospital under a trauma alert.
    Dr. William Frye, a trauma surgeon at Roanoke Memorial, saw Herchenrider the day after his admission.  “He continued to ooze blood,” Dr. Frye said.
    Dr. Frye, who surgically treated  Herchenrider’s wounds, said that he had several areas where the skin was partially or fully torn.
    According to Dr. Frye,  Herchenrider had a heart attack while at the hospital and was transfered to the ICU.
    Dr. Frye said that Herchenrider had multiple serious health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and coronary artery disease.
    It’s possible that Pongracz may eventually be charged with murder. Ayers said that they are still awaiting reports from the autopsy performed on Herchenrider. She said that she doesn’t expect to have these before the grand jury meets.