Gail Palmgren: the cost of questions, the price for answers
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Recovery crews pulled Gail Palmgren's ruby red Jeep Rubicon from the side of Signal Mountain, December 5th.
The 44-year-old mother of two had seemed to vanish into thin air.
Then earlier in December a national search group spotted her Rubicon from the air, using infrared equipment.
Yates Wrecker & Recovery faced a crumpled Jeep Rubicon, on December 8th, which weighed a few pounds shy of two tons, wedged in a thicket after plunging halfway down a bluff on Signal Mountain.
"It's up there with some of the most difficult recoveries we've done in the past," Shannon Yates says.
The stakes couldn't have been much higher.
Investigators believe the wrecked Rubicon itself, and the 'black box' recording device within; likely hold the keys as to why Gail Palmgren's vehicle ran off the road, and how she died.
The 44-year-old mother of two had been missing since April 30.
"They had thought about lifting it out via helicopter, but they didn't feel it would be safe," Yates says. "What if it was to get hung up?"
Similar safety concerns ruled out lifting the wreckage via 'zip line.'
"They came back and said just get out of there the easiest way you can with the least amount of damage," Yates says.
Yates' solution was a pair a $500,000 wrecker capable of lifting 70 tons, with a Caterpillar earth mover. Use tension cable to secure the wreckage atop the bluff, while 3-4 men in rappelling gear "inch it down" the incline.
All the equipment was 'in-house', save a $3,000 cable reel that weighed almost a ton.
"We invested three days and about 50 man hours," Yates says."We haven't even begun to figure a final bill yet."
Sheriff Jim Hammond wouldn't be surprised if it came in at more than $12,000.
"I don't expect it to be cheap," he says. "The cost for salaries, for any investigation; the leading cost depends on the man-hours you put in on it."
Sheriff Hammond believes that the overtime alone could run $30-40,000.
The figure includes 3-4 visits by 3-4 detectives to the Palmgren's lake home in Alabama.
"I prefer to refer to it as the cost of justice rather than the cost of doing business," Sheriff Hammond says. "To be able to bring cases to closure, successfully, with the right information."
Hammond is hopeful that the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Department ('Body Farm') will deliver autopsy results within a couple of weeks. That would allow Palmgren's family to lay her remains to rest before the end of the year.
Likewise, he expects the crime lab to have analyzed results from the Jeep's 'black box' to re-create the circumstances that led to Palmgren's fatal crash.
"We're fortunate to have deep resources and levels of expertise close by, and just as importantly --already pre-funded with tax dollars," Sheriff Hammond says.
But seven and one-half months since her disappearance, and 11 days since her remains were discovered?
"There is nothing that we've found so far that is inconsistent with an accident," Sheriff Hammond says.
Sheriff Hammond believes the autopsy and black box reports could be back in a couple of weeks--allowing Gail Palmgren's family to hold services before the new year.
Like any investigation, the cost to put a family's pain at ease is not a deterrent.