published Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Black box from Gail Palmgren's Jeep searched for clues

Spray paint marks where a boulder was located on East Brow Road before Gail Palmgren's crimson Jeep Rubicon struck it and plunged over a precipice in April.
Spray paint marks where a boulder was located on East Brow Road before Gail Palmgren's crimson Jeep Rubicon struck it and plunged over a precipice in April.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Just 23 minutes after dropping off her two young children, Gail Palmgren drove along East Brow Road in her 2010 crimson Jeep Rubicon.

The sun was shining and the skies were clear on April 30 as the vehicle went off the road onto a small grassy area and struck a tire-size boulder weighing about 435 pounds. The Jeep went airborne and overturned, the rear crashing on one bluff, then another, falling a total of about 350 feet. The vehicle lay in a wooded area at the base of Walden's Ridge above the W Road for about seven months before it was discovered.

Now Hamilton County Sheriff's Office investigators have examined the Jeep wreckage and used the vehicle's black box to try to learn why Palmgren, 43, drove over the edge.

Investigators said Palmgren was not wearing her seat belt when the Jeep crashed. They have declined so far to release other findings from the box.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said he has seen preliminary reports from the traffic unit and the medical examiner's office in Knoxville, where Palmgren's remains were examined by a forensic anthropological team.

Pending the issue of final reports, Hammond said, it appears to be "just a terrible accident."

Inside the box

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 85 percent of cars on the road have the boxes, also known as event data recorders, whose information can be retrieved and examined after a crash.

The black boxes, which often are actually aluminum in color, record data including speed, seat belt use, braking and acceleration.

"Not all cars have them. Really, from 2001 forward to where we are now, most heavy manufacturers are putting them in there," said Chattanooga Police Sgt. Chad Sullivan, who works in the special operations division and investigates DUIs. Mark Kimsey, traffic sergeant with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, declined to be interviewed because he is working on the Palmgren case.

Traffic investigators get subpoenas to gain access to the boxes in some cases if there is a fatality or serious injury in a crash.

Chattanooga has had 17 traffic fatalities so far this year and investigators retrieved data from one black box. In several cases, investigators didn't have the software to retrieve the data or were unable to access the data.

Auto manufacturers began installing the recorders in vehicles about 10 years ago, but are not required to do so.

An event such as a collision or heavy braking will trigger the box to record.

"It will record from that point forward," Sullivan said. "Some of them really are detailed. They'll tell what the temperature setting was on the A/C unit. That falls back to the manufacturer and how much info they want to release."

Under federal requirements, the boxes must record 15 types of crash data. There are federal standards for an additional 30 types of data.

Palmgren's Jeep was a newer model that records a wealth of information compared with earlier versions of the recorder, said Michael Palese, a spokesman for Jeep. Before the 2010 model, if an airbag did not inflate, the data may not have recorded.

"Up until a year or so ago, if there was an accident [without airbags deploying], there was nothing you would be able to capture from it," Palese said. "Now, I think there are delta-V's [changes in velocity], crash forces, that will trigger the capturing of some of the things that happened during a crash event. If it was an extreme impact that had a certain delta-V it would cause a reading to be taken."

The model in Palmgren's Jeep stores data for five seconds before a crash at 100 millisecond intervals. Some of the measurements include engine RPMs, vehicle speed, engine throttle percentage, accelerator pedal percentage, anti-lock brake system and steering input.

The model also measures the yaw rate, or velocity measured from side to side.

"You would know those directional forces that the passengers were experiencing during the course of an accident," Palese said.

No final answers

Despite the detail some boxes capture, the technology cannot provide answers to everything.

"The biggest help we get from it is when it fills in a void," Sullivan said.

"If we get people who are ejected from a vehicle, it will help us learn whether or not they were wearing their seat belt or not. ... but it's not going to tell you why the person turned left or right. It's not going to tell you if they were intoxicated."

Some groups have criticized the widespread installation of black boxes, citing privacy concerns.

"There is good reason to believe that the promotion of universal black box installation in new vehicles has more to do with regulatory, enforcement, judicial and corporate economic interests; all at the expense of vehicle owners who are forced to pay for and retain this form of self-surveillance," reads a statement from the National Motorists Association on the organization's website.

Many drivers don't know their vehicles are equipped with the boxes. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration states manufacturers must notify owners of the boxes. Auto companies notify owners by printing information in the owner's manual.

"We didn't ask they [black boxes] get put in there, but we are glad they are in there," Sullivan said.

"If the shoe was on the other foot and they [critics] were the victim, they would probably be glad it's in there," Sullivan said.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
jjameslmcl said...

There is a ghost behind every tree and the truth will come out. Some back-tracking should reveal many clues.

December 18, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.
lookinfour said...

I feel bad for the family and the husband who was found guilty in the public eye by so many. I don't read any posts or news stories from all those who found him guilty making any sort of public apology. The guy might be an adulterer, but he's no murderer.

December 18, 2011 at 10:01 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Finding Gail Palgren after a car crash does not exonerate her husband. We'll probably find out that she drove off of that cliff deliberately. Given the poor conditions of her home life, it's plausible that there were conditions that would encourage or support suicidal ideation.

If she did commit suicide by vehicle, it's not going to somehow relieve her husband of burden.

If she died as a result of an unrelated accident, then that's just lucky for him. We all learned he was a heel. I doubt anyone will shed a tear for a multimillionaire who treated his wife poorly.

December 18, 2011 at 10:12 p.m.
NorthChatter said...

Everyone involved have been pretty much universal in pointing out her love for her children.

And it was pretty easy to determine that her husband was having an affair, I seriously doubt she didn't already have proof of it.

So, instead of divorcing her husband, taking him to the cleaners financially (because of his infidelity) and getting custody of her children...she decided to drive off a cliff? Yeah, that makes sense.

Too many people are watching too many crime shows on TV...murder conspiracies or being driven to the point of suicide are much exciting than just the sad reality of a tragic accident...hell, it just happened again last week on the W Road (thank goodness that person survived)

Occam's razor.

December 18, 2011 at 10:57 p.m.
cildawg1 said...

Society is always eager to make that giant leap - if a man is willing to cheat on his LIFE PARTNER, he is probably capable of anything, including murder. I find it so sad that a man will have no problem cheating on his wife and wouldn't DREAM of cheating a client or stealing from a store. What is it in our society that makes marital infidelity acceptable?

All that we know about this case is that the husband was a cheater (and liar and thief) to his wife and that the wife was involved in a terrible accident. I think that's the end of the story. I don't believe the two facts are related.

December 18, 2011 at 11:18 p.m.
lookinfour said...

328kwebsite...please. If every man or woman chose to commit suicide because of marital problems involving an affair there would be millions of suicides every year. You can't blame him for this accident or suicide, whatever it was.

December 18, 2011 at 11:46 p.m.
rolando said...

I have always hoped Ms Palmgren had dumped everything in her old life, run off to Belize with her filthy rich boyfriend, and was living a life of eternal sunshine, yachting, and happiness.

Sadly for her, that didn't happen. She ended up driving off a cliff. Requiescat in pacem

I have also held that had there been the slightest evidence of foul play by her husband, the investigators would have been all over him.

These people condemning Mr Palmgren out of hand in public and without reason are the same kind of vicious people who condemned Casey Anthony on no evidence whatsoever except that she liked to party [what 20 year-old doesn't?]. All this long before her trial -- in which she was found Not Guilty.

There was never enough evidence surrounding Mrs Palmgren's disappearance to justify a search warrant of the family's home, much less to bring a grand jury indictment of her husband.

Hopefully, Mr Palmgren and his family will find peace, solace, and closure with the discovery of the remains. I grieve for them in their sorrow.

December 19, 2011 at 7:45 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

rolando said... These people condemning Mr Palmgren out of hand in public and without reason are the same kind of vicious people who condemned Casey Anthony on no evidence whatsoever except that she liked to party [what 20 year-old doesn't?].

The prince of condemnation of others dare to speak about others condemning someone? Your support of Casey Anthony is pathetic. Whether she dilberately killed her baby or not, to dump your child where wild animals would feast on her and then hide the fact for months and months, and all you can say is she's innocent. she just liked to party.

December 19, 2011 at 3 p.m.
tireboy said...

It's time to say the hell with people's views, And start using tax dollars that are collected for more purposeful things like gaurdrails the roads by national standards in Georgia and Tennessee are 6 feet to narrow, their not going to widen all the roads so at least put up rails


March 2, 2012 at 11:22 p.m.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.