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Montana Trooper Shot Three Times In Head, Face, And Neck Is Fighting For Life

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer was shot in the line of duty on Friday morning.

Salt Lake City, UT – The wife of Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) Trooper Wade Palmer said that her husband has not regained consciousness since he was shot in the face, head, and neck while searching for a gunman on Friday morning.

The suspect, later identified as 29-year-old Jonathan Bertsch, also shot three citizens in an earlier altercation in Missoula, killing one of them, according to court documents.

Trooper Palmer, 35, was rushed to a local hospital before he was airlifted to a hospital in Salt Lake City later in the day, the MHP said in a press release.

Trooper Palmer’s wife, Lindsey, provided an update regarding her husband’s condition on Wednesday through his department.

“Trooper Palmer was shot three times in the head, face and neck,” Lindsey said. “He is stable but his condition is still considered extremely critical.”

The father-of-two was unconscious when he was found inside his patrol car by a fellow officer, and has not regained consciousness since that time.

“He remains in a medically induced coma at a Utah hospital,” Lindsey continued. “He has not regained consciousness since the shooting on Friday.”

Doctors anticipate that it might be a while before they will be able to provide more information regarding Trooper Palmer’s prognosis.

“The family asks for the public’s patience and for their understanding that updates will not necessarily be available on a daily basis. We will keep everyone updated as appropriate via the Highway Patrol and Department of Justice,” she said.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that Wade will continue to see steady improvements,” the trooper’s wife continued. “We recognize, however, that the overall understanding of these improvements and what they mean in the long run is still evolving and unknown at this time. We are deeply grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers for Wade and for us.”

Trooper Palmer’s family has been constantly surrounded by Montana and Utah law enforcement officers since they arrived in Salt Lake City, the MHP said in a previous update.

“I was in Salt Lake City at the hospital shortly after they brought Trooper Palmer in from Missoula,” Montana Attorney General Tim Fox told KGVO on Wednesday. “I was there with his family and also with his Highway Patrol colleagues from Montana. I have to say it was very heartwarming to see the amount of support, not only from law enforcement in Utah, but other groups and individuals.”

Lindsey expressed her appreciation for the outpouring of support in a statement on Monday.

“I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Montana and Utah for all of their support, and to all of the caring people throughout the nation that have offered prayers and positive messages,” she said at the time.

“To all the Brothers & Sisters in Blue, words cannot express the appreciation we have for all that you have done & for reaching out,” Lindsey said. “Knowing that our communities are coming together at our time of need is a great comfort.”

MHP Chief Tom Butler also issued a statement on Wednesday to address the “false rumors circulating about Trooper Palmer’s condition.”

“While we understand that the chatter can arise from a place of genuine concern and goodwill, please understand that when Wade’s friends and relatives see misinformation posted about his condition, it is very upsetting, especially when they have to take the time and energy to dispel the rumors,” Chief Butler said.

“With that in mind, please do not circulate or repeat a rumor or information about Trooper Palmer unless it has been verified by the Montana Highway Patrol or Department of Justice,” the chief added.

“The Highway Patrol has been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement seen in recent days. It is clear the silent majority supports their law enforcement officers,” he said. “Please continue to keep Trooper Palmer and the Missoula shooting victims in your thoughts and prayers.”

A fundraising campaign established to assist Trooper Palmer and his young family has raised over $150,000.

Trooper Palmer was the last of four people Bertsch allegedly attacked following a “road rage” incident that began just before 11 p.m. on March 14, according to court documents.

Julie Blanchard later told investigators that she had gone to pick up her son, Casey Blanchard, and his friend, Shelley Hayes, at Marvin’s Bar N’ Grill.

As they piled into her red pickup, Julie noticed a white Escalade in the parking lot.

“As they left the parking lot, the Escalade followed them, flashing its headlights,” court documents read. “Julie pulled over, thinking the Escalade driver might need help.”

Casey got out of the truck and began walking towards the Escalade, at which point the gunman inside the Escalade opened fire.

Surveillance footage from a nearby car dealership showed a male subject firing a handgun at the victims.

Bertsch fled the scene in the Escalade, while Julie called 911.

Police arrive to find the truck riddled with bullet holes.

Julie was conscious in the driver’s seat, suffering from a gunshot wound, police said.

Casey was lying on the ground outside the truck, and had been shot multiple times.

“In the back seat of the pickup was a deceased male, later identified as Shelley Hayes, who also had been shot,” according to court documents.

Hayes leaves behind a six-year-old daughter, according to a fundraising campaign established to assist his family.

Casey, a married father of two, is also being treated for his wounds in Salt Lake City, Montana Public Radio reported.

Multiple agencies joined the massive manhunt for the gunman.

Less than an hour later, at 12:12 a.m., shots rang out on Evaro Hill.

Trooper Palmer radioed dispatch to advise that he was “under fire” near the Evaro Bar on Highway 93, but the dispatcher was subsequently unable to reach him by radio.

“Trooper Alex Hiday was the next officer to arrive on scene,” the MHP said in a press release later that day. “[Trooper] Hiday found [Trooper] Palmer still seat-belted in his patrol car and that he had been shot.”

Bertsch had already fled the scene prior to the trooper’s arrival.

With the help of a Missoula police officer, Trooper Palmer was placed into a patrol vehicle, and was rushed to the intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate 90, where he was transferred into an ambulance.

During the manhunt that ensued, law enforcement officers spoke with Bertsch’s father, Burton Bertsch, at the Grey Wolf Casino, according to court documents.

Burton said that he spoke with Bertsch on the phone earlier, and that he “told him something to the effect of ‘I had a road rage incident…I think I might have shot a cop,’” court documents read.

Burton said his son typically carries a rifle and a .45-caliber handgun with him in his vehicle.

Officers contacted Bertsch using Burton’s phone, and he allegedly admitted to having been involved in both shootings.

But he refused to tell police where he was.

A Missoula County sheriff’s deputy apprehended the gunman on Grooms Road at 4:24 a.m., after a citizen called 911 to report that a white Escalade was parked in the area.

He was taken into custody without further incident, the MHP said.

Bertsch has been charged with deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide, according to court documents.

Over 100 uniformed law enforcement officers filled the packed courtroom during his initial appearance on Monday, KGVO reported.

MHP Captain Chad Dever said that the officers’ presence at the hearing was a powerful display of solidarity.

“It’s just amazing the brotherhood that we see at our times of need like this, and words aren’t enough to say how much it means to us on the Highway Patrol,” Capt. Dever said. “To be honest, we’re devastated right now…We’re just happy that Wade is a fighter and he’s fighting right now. We’re just praying that he gets better, and that’s about all we can do.”

Judge Alex Beal set Bertsch’s bail at $2 million.

He is due back in court on March 27.

Holly Matkin - March Wed, 2019


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