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Julie Blanchard

Julie Blanchard, 52

A coroner in Washington State has ruled Julie Blanchard's June death at a hospital there a homicide, citing complications from wounds suffered in a March shooting in Missoula.

Chelan County Coroner Wayne Harris said in a press release Tuesday that examiners "could only state the cause of death as Clinical Complications of Multiple Gunshot Wounds of the Bilateral Upper Extremities and Torso."

Blanchard was shot two or three times, Harris told the Missoulian after reviewing her autopsy report.

"Manner of death is homicide," Harris wrote in the release.

Chief Missoula County Deputy Attorney Jason Marks told the Missoulian on Tuesday prosecutors still need to review the findings before filing charges against the suspect, 28-year-old Johnathan Bertsch.

“We need to review all of the medical records and associated documents from Washington before making a decision filing amended charges,” Marks said.

Blanchard, 52, was one of two people killed as a result of a shooting spree in the twilight hours of March 14 and March 15 outside Missoula. Blanchard, her son Casey and his friend Shelley Hays, 28, were returning from a bar west of town when a white SUV pulled in behind them and began flashing its headlights. 

Blanchard told police their vehicle stopped to help the motorist, and the gunfire began when Casey Blanchard got out of the vehicle. Video from a nearby auto dealership showed the driver of the SUV shooting at Casey Blanchard and then turning his firearm on the red pickup carrying the victims. Hays was pronounced dead at the scene, while Casey Blanchard suffered eight gunshot wounds.

Casey Blanchard survived the shooting and returned home to Stevensville in May, less than 48 hours before his mother died at a hospital in Chelan County, Washington, where she was undergoing rehabilitation treatment.

As law enforcement spread out through the county in search of the white SUV on March 14, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer located a vehicle matching that description on U.S. 93 north of Missoula. As Palmer pulled in behind it, bullets peppered his car, three of them striking Palmer in the head, face and neck. 

Palmer, who was treated at the same hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, as Casey Blanchard, has also returned home to Stevensville for continued rehabilitation. 

The Chelan County coroner's finding comes just over a week after family and friends toasted Blanchard's memory in Lolo, where she was lauded for her love of family and fast cars. Her sons are both employees at Gomer's U.S. Diesel Parts in Missoula, where they had worked with Hays before he struck out to start his own diesel shop, Maxxed Out Performance and Repair. 

Bertsch so far is charged with one count of deliberate homicide and three counts of attempted deliberate homicide in Missoula County District Court. His next hearing has been set for October. He remains jailed on $2 million bail.

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