A Montana Highway Patrol trooper whose extraordinary actions saved a life four winters ago has his own on the line.
Wade Palmer, 35, was shot and critically wounded early Friday in what appeared to be an ambush by a lone gunman while Palmer sat in his patrol car.
Johnathan Bertsch of Missoula was later captured and charged in two separate shootings that left one man dead and two others seriously wounded.
Palmer was transported by air Friday afternoon from St. Patrick Hospital to Salt Lake City, where Attorney General Tim Fox was to meet his family.
Palmer graduated from Lewis and Clark Elementary and in 2003 from Missoula Sentinel High School. He and wife Lindsey have two daughters.
A Go Fund Me site, the "Trooper Wade Palmer Expense Fund," has been established with a goal of $50,000 to help meet medical expenses.
Palmer was a dispatcher for the University of Montana police before joining MHP.
He graduated from the patrol’s Advanced Academy in 2012 in a class of 10 selected from 543 applicants. He gave Lindsey the honor of pinning on his badge "because of her tremendous support and strong spirit," according to a script provided Friday by the Montana Attorney General's office.
Fellow trooper T.J. Templeton called Palmer the consummate professional.
"He is very serious about what he does. This job fit him perfectly," said Templeton, who was at the side of Palmer’s wife and family on Friday after the shooting. "We have a standard that's held pretty high to be state troopers, and he held that as well or better than any of us."
Palmer received the Medal of Valor, the patrol’s highest honor, for his lifesaving efforts at the scene of a horrific multi-vehicle crash near Frenchtown in December 2014.
Templeton, a cadet two months short of being sworn in as a trooper, rode along with Palmer to a crash on Interstate 90 during a blizzard that left a car with a woman and her two daughters disabled and facing into westbound traffic.
The ensuing video from their dashboard camera went viral. In an increasingly dangerous chain of events that included speeding vehicles and two semi-truck crashes, Palmer located the mother lying on the opposite side of the highway.
In the chaos, Palmer attempted to render aid to her as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Templeton, standing on the other side of the highway, alerted Palmer to another semi swerving out of control and into the median. Palmer dragged the woman out of its path in the nick of time.
“It was really sudden and terrifying,” Palmer told reporters and his fellow troopers at a ceremony at MHP headquarters in Missoula the following March.
He said when he got home with his family after the traumatic experience, his tough exterior crumbled.
“To be honest with you, I broke down and sobbed. It was a lot that happened, and to get home and see my family was huge,” he said.
The woman he saved recovered and was present at the award ceremony to thank Palmer and Templeton. Templeton received MHP’s Meritorious Service Award from Fox for his actions.
“What these two did that day — it comes from here and here, and it comes from a passion for public service,” the attorney general said at the time, pointing at his head and his heart.
Templeton said Friday he and Palmer don't share shifts and work on opposite ends of the schedule, so they aren't necessarily the closest friends.
Troopers develop a bond that comes out of shared experiences, but "we kind of had one that was a little different flavor," he said.
They ribbed each other "pretty hard" about the awards they'd received.
"We don't do this for awards," Templeton said. "Quite frankly we don't enjoy it. It kind of takes away sometimes from what we do every other day that's not rewarded. It doesn't get attention because it doesn't need attention. It's what we do."