Gail Palmgren Jeep crash on Signal Mountain ruled an accident

Gail Palmgren Jeep crash on Signal Mountain ruled an accident

January 5th, 2012 by Beth Burger in News

Signal Mountain Police Department Chief Boyd Veal, left, and Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond listen while Hamilton County Sheriff's Office traffic investigator Sgt. Mark Kimsey speaks at a news conference Wednesday about final results into the investigation of the death of Gail Palmgren.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

The widower of a Signal Mountain woman who was missing for seven months hopes to move on with his life now that Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has ruled her death the result of a car accident, his attorney said Wednesday.

Matthew Palmgren, 40, had " a lot of unfair scrutiny" placed on him after his wife, Gail Palmgren, disappeared on April 30, said attorney Lee Davis. Some critics complained that Matt Palmgren didn't do enough to find his wife, Davis said, citing some of Gail Palmgren's friends and local media outlets.

"From Matt's perspective, he didn't do anything wrong. He knows he didn't do anything wrong," Davis said.

Gail Palmgren, 44, was last seen by her family after she dropped the couple's two children off at their home around noon on April 30. On May 2, Palmgren reported his wife missing to Signal Mountain authorities. On May 16, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office became the lead agency on the case.

At a news conference Wednesday, Traffic Sgt. Mark Kimsey said Gail Palmgren crashed between 12:26 p.m. and 12:38 p.m. near the 1400 block of East Brow Road. Her Jeep Rubicon went over the edge of Signal Mountain, plummeting 155 feet.

Detective Ric Whaley said Matt Palmgren was at home with the children at the time of the crash.

Now he is trying to support his children, Davis said.

"He's now in the process of trying to take care of the employment situation and has the kids in school and wants to keep them there. That's what he's trying to do," Davis said. "Some of Gail's family members stayed at Matt's house this weekend. It's a large family. They are doing the best they can to get through a difficult situation."

The Palmgrens were on the verge of a divorce and had several arguments that drew police before she disappeared.

"I think the investigation coming to a close and findings they presented today show it was a tragic accident," Davis said. "The work the sheriff's office put into it was a tremendous amount of work. Their findings are absolutely conclusive."

Investigators found the 2010 Jeep Rubicon in an aerial search last month.

The Jeep's event data recorder documented the vehicle's first collision with a boulder on the edge of the roadway after Gail Palmgren overcorrected and went over the edge. Her speed was below 30 mph, the recorder showed.

Why she overcorrected is a mystery, he said.

"It was either inattention, distraction or an object presented a threat to her coming at her or she drifted over to the left. Something caused her to input significant steering to the right before she tumbled off the bluff," Kimsey said.

There was no evidence on her cellphone to indicate she was calling, texting or emailing, he said, and nothing from the vehicle showed any evidence of tampering.

The Hamilton County Medical Examiner's report has not been finalized, but Sheriff Jim Hammond said what forensic pathologists "are able to establish from the remains is consistent with a high-trauma, instant death."

A Signal Mountain police report filed Friday -- the day of Gail's funeral service -- said that Matthew Palmgren asked Diane Nichols, Gail Palmgren's sister, to leave the family's home when she tried to give the children Christmas gifts. When Nichols did not follow his request, he contacted authorities.

Investigators met with the Palmgren children recently at the crash site to help give them closure, Hammond said.

"It seemed to be therapy for them. There will be unanswered questions. We know that. There will be speculation," Hammond said. "We will continue to entertain reliable information. Based on medical forensics; based on traffic forensics; based on skills of professionals here, we feel like this should bring this matter to a conclusion."