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April 17, 2007

Schoolteacher primary suspect in grisly Preston County slayings

KINGWOOD, W.Va. - A grisly weekend slaying has left a Preston County mother and her son dead, and led to the arrest of a beloved schoolteacher.

Police charged James Louis DeGasperin, 35, of Pleasantdale, with two counts of first-degree murder Sunday after they discovered the bodies of Lori Casteel and her 4-year-old son, Collin Casteel, in a Ford Explorer. Mother and son were found in the woods near the residence they shared with DeGasperin, according to a criminal complaint from the Preston County Magistrate Court.

The court complaint said DeGasperin bludgeoned his live-in girlfriend and her son to death with a baseball bat. Mel Snyder, Preston County Prosecuting Attorney, said they appeared to have died "from substantial blunt force trauma to the head."

While a late-night Sunday call to the Preston 911 center initially reported "a murder might have occurred," evidence found at the crime scene led Snyder to say that "DeGasperin caused their wounds."

According to court documents, a witness, Terry Knotts, told Preston County Lt. Joe Stiles that DeGasperin admitted to killing Casteel and asked "Knotts to help him dispose of the body."

The news came as a surprise to DeGasperin's one-time supervisor.

"I'm just in total shock," LeJay Graffious, who spent 29 years at Bruceton School, said. "It's a sad day."

Describing DeGasperin as "easy-going" and "a hard working kid always eager to please," Graffious said the suspect is a popular teacher who comes from a family of educators.

"Jim was a wonderful teacher and the kids loved him. There was never any sign of that in school," he said. DeGasperin reported directly to Graffious, whose stay at the school included 17 years as principal. "He had a great phys ed program."

A magistrate court clerk said the only other charge on record against DeGasperin was from 1990. He was charged with possession with intent to deliver (drugs), but the charge was later dropped, for "no probable cause."

Tfc. J.G. Portaro of the West Virginia State Police in Kingwood is in charge of the investigation.

Daleen Berry can be reached at dberry@times-news.com.

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