MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana Highway Patrol trooper who suffered a traumatic brain injury after being shot three times was released Wednesday from a Utah hospital after his wife gave emotional thanks to the medical team and supporters.
Trooper Wade Palmer, 35, was wounded in the neck, face and head on March 15 while investigating a shooting in Missoula a few hours earlier that killed one person and wounded two others.
Palmer was shot after locating a suspect’s vehicle near a bar.
Lindsey Palmer said she and her husband were excited to return home to their two children and expressed her appreciation for the compassionate care of the hospital staff at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City.
“You gave us the fighting chance we needed to get through this,” she said before they flew back to Montana.
Dr. Ramesh Grandhi, who is Wade Palmer’s neurosurgeon, told The Associated Press that Palmer suffered a severe injury to the left side of his brain, which controls speech for right-handed people.
Palmer isn’t able to speak, but he often seems to understand what is being said. The doctor said Palmer still has a lot of work ahead. He couldn’t give a prognosis for long-term recovery or predict if he will regain his speech.
“That is something that’s exceedingly hard to do in terms of patients with severe traumatic brain injuries,” Grandhi said. “There are patients that keep getting better years out, especially if they have good support and good rehabilitation.”
Palmer is wearing a helmet to protect his head.
The leader of the highway patrol, Col. Tom Butler, and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox accompanied Palmer and his wife as they traveled to Missoula.
A long line of law-enforcement vehicles met them at the airport and escorted them through Missoula as they headed to their Stevensville home.
Fox said Palmer was “smiling ear to ear.”
“He knew he was going to be reunited with his girls,” Fox said. “He was going to be home, and he was going to see his trooper colleagues and his friends, and see familiar faces and places. And while he couldn’t communicate with speech, his smile alone and his upbeat attitude swelled my heart and I’m sure everybody else’s in the room.”
Defendant Johnathan Bertsch has pleaded not guilty to charges of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide in the two shootings.
He is accused of following a pickup truck from a Missoula bar, flashing his lights at the vehicle and then opening fire on its occupants when they stopped to help what they thought was a driver having engine trouble, prosecutors said.
That shooting prompted a manhunt during which Palmer found Bertsch’s vehicle on U.S. Highway 93 about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the shooting, authorities said.
In his last communication with radio dispatchers, Palmer reported he was under fire. A responding trooper found him wounded and still wearing his seat belt in his patrol car.