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Trooper airlifted to Salt Lake City; Missoula area shootings under investigation

Posted at 1:38 PM, Mar 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 18:05:51-04

Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer, who was shot early Friday morning near Missoula, has been airlifted to a Salt Lake City hospital.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox flew out of Bozeman Friday afternoon to be with him.

The Missoula Police Department received the initial call about reports of gunfire with three people shot near the Stone Creek Lodge at Expressway in Missoula shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday.

The suspect, Jonathon Bertsch, fled the scene and led several agencies on a seven-hour manhunt along U.S. Highway 93 North.

Jonathon Bertsch (Courtesy: Missoula County Sheriff’s Office)

Missoula units set up a perimeter and warned area residents to lock their doors as a suspect was at large.

Within moments, a second shooting was reported near Evaro Bar and Casino where Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Wade Palmer located a vehicle matching the description.

Trooper Alex Hiday was the next officer on scene. Hiday found Palmer shot and still seat-belted in his patrol car. The suspect had fled the scene, according to the MHP.

Hiday and a Missoula Police Department officer transported Palmer to an ambulance at the intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate 90. He was taken to St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, but has since been airlifted to Salt Lake City.

There’s still no information available on the other three victims who were shot.

After an extensive manhunt, at approximately 6:15 a.m. the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office took the suspect, Jonathan Bertsch, into custody without incident.

Palmer has been with the Patrol since 2012. He is stationed in Detachment 112 in Missoula.

In 2015, he was awarded the Patrol’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, for his heroic lifesaving efforts at the scene of a multiple-vehicle crash involving a mother and her young children in December 2014.

Trooper Palmer has a wife and two young children.

The Montana Department of Justice has taken over the investigation involving Trooper Palmer while the Missoula Police Department is investigating the shootings near Expressway.

(1st Report, 5:15 a.m.) Law enforcement from across Missoula County and even neighboring counties remain on the lookout for a suspect who was involved in two overnight shootouts.

Missoula police received the initial call shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday with reports of gunfire and that multiple people had been shot near the Stone Creek Lodge, at Expressway and Tanager Way.

Missoula Police Department spokesman Sgt. Travis Welsh said when the first officers rolled up they confirmed two people had been shot, and a third uninjured person who had made the 911 call.

From the beginning, Missoula units were looking for a Cadillac SUV with patrol cars fanning out and looking throughout the surrounding residential area and starting to block off traffic to preserve the crime scene and evidence on Expressway.

But after the initial police response at Expressway, the scene quickly changed with officers going as far north as Evaro and as far south as Lolo in attempts to locate the suspect. That’s when other agencies began to jump into the case.

“The jurisdiction changed in January. So that used to be county property. Now it’s actually city property,” Missoula County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Brenda Bassett said. “But we have MHP, obviously the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Missoula Police Department, Airport Police and then we have multiple agencies in neighboring counties.”

That response ramped up quickly after the report of the second, officer-involved shooting on Evaro Hill, less than an hour later, forcing investigators to not only look for the shooter but cope with the additional stress.

“There’s two active investigations that are very fresh. There’s so many different moving parts. So I think with the different jurisdictions they’re still working on a lot of those details,” Bassett told MTN News.

For a time after the shooting, Providence St. Patrick Hospital, where the first victims were taken, was on a security lockdown as a precaution.

“It’s moving very fast, so we’re just really trying to take care of that number one priority of keeping the public safe,” Bassett said.