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One year after Denison teacher’s death, “Justice for Katie Palmer” movement continues

Katie Palmer
Katie Palmer
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 1:19 PM CDT
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DENISON, Texas (KXII) - A year ago Wednesday, a Denison teacher, mother and wife was hit and killed by a truck while walking in her neighborhood.

A Facebook group in her name has more than 5,000 members from all over the world .

So News 12 looked at what happened in the year since her death and where the Justice for Katie Palmer movement goes from here.

“My name is John Palmer. My wife’s name is Katie Palmer. As a victim, and now a widower, I’m in support of House Bill 558, as long as this bill requires an automatic blood testing for motorists that seriously injure or kill pedestrians.”

On the morning of April 21, 2020, Katie and John Palmer went for a walk in their neighborhood. Fifteen minutes later, their neighbor, Cory Foster, hit them from behind with his F-250, knocking them out of their shoes and throwing them yards away.

Bodycam footage from the DPS Trooper who worked the scene captured these conversations.

Trooper: “What’s your name?”

John: “John Palmer”

John broke his back. And somehow still managed to crawl over to Katie, who was unresponsive after a blunt force trauma to her head.

Trooper: “Hey John, what’s … was that your wife?”

John: “It was.”

Trooper: “What’s her name?”

John: “Katie Palmer”

Katie was flown by helicopter to a hospital where she would be pronounced dead hours later.

Meanwhile, troopers began to ask Foster what happened.

Cory: “I just couldn’t see because the glare was so bad. Which, I shouldn’t have driven.”

Foster cited a foggy windshield, but a trooper on the scene mentioned another factor.

Trooper: “I’m smelling it pretty strong coming from your breath today is why I’m asking how late did you stop? How late did you have your last one?”

Cory: “Seven o’clock probably.”

Trooper: “Seven?”

Cory: “Mhmm.”

The information Foster gave the trooper was enough to perform a field sobriety test.

Cory: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine”

Trooper: “Okay, that’s good. That’s good.”

Which he passed with flying colors. He even took a breathalyzer test, and blew a .06 under the legal limit. You are legally intoxicated when your BAC reaches a 0.08 in Texas.

In the state of Texas, to require a blood test in order to find a driver’s blood alcohol level, you need a warrant. Since Foster passed both tests…

Trooper 2: “He blew an .06.”

Trooper 1: “What?”

Trooper 2: “Are you asking for blood?”

Trooper 1: “No, we’re not going to. That was still from last night.”

A breathalyzer test taken in the field is inadmissible in court and can only be used as a pass/fail for further testing.

The trooper didn’t request a warrant.

Listen to this phone call he makes to a supervisor while on the scene.

Trooper 1: “I can’t believe he was that high still today. He’s like man, I quit drinking like, at eight o’clock last night.”

Even still, the trooper was not satisfied.

Trooper 2: “He said he drinks all the time.”

Trooper 1: “Oh, yeah.”

Trooper 2: “He said Sunday morning ten o’clock he’ll have a beer cracked open.”

Within an hour of arriving on the scene, the trooper drove Foster home.

Nearly four months later a grand jury would listen to three hours of testimony and deliberate for one hour before declining to indict him for manslaughter or criminal negligence.

Foster declined to comment but referred us to his attorney, John Hunter Smith.

“The system of justice worked. Everyone had the opportunity to present their position in this case. And this in turn was found not to be criminal in nature,” Smith said.

Smith called what happened last April a tragic accident.

Rhonda Nail is Katie’s mother.

“I loved my daughter. I’m not going to stop.”

It was at that moment Katie’s family knew their fight had only just begun. Passing House Bill 558 became paramount.

“What this bill will do is it will make people accountable,” John says. “That’s all that we’ve ever asked for is accountability and justice.”

The bill in front of the Texas House Committee for Homeland Security and Public Safety would require an automatic blood test for motorists who seriously injure or kill pedestrians.

Rep. Reggie Smith (R-Sherman) sat with John and Rhonda when they testified in Austin in favor of the bill.

“She was a great teacher and mom and wife. I just hate it for them. Every time I think about this particular incident it just sends chills up my spine.”

“We owe it to her memory to fix this,” Rhonda says. “And we owe it to other people to fix this. No one should ever have to go through it.”

Their story shocked lawmakers and lobbyists alike.

“Almost every jurisdiction I have ever appeared in has a policy whereby if there is a death, you must seek a warrant at this point, after 2013 and try to get the blood of a suspect if you have probable cause,” said DWI attorney Frank Sellers testified.

For Katie’s mother, the trip was further proof that the loss of her daughter is bigger than just her family, Texas lost a future leader that day.

“We need leaders like you in the Senate and House, women leaders like you. And she said, ‘Mom, five years, I’ll do it.”

For her husband he has found a new purpose in fighting to make sure everyone knows Katie’s life mattered.

“We’re willing and able to keep this fight up for as long as it takes, for as long as it takes.”

Wherever it takes him.

Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith did comment on this case for the first time since the Grand Jury declined to indict Foster, sending this statement:

“The death of Katie Palmer is a profound loss to all who knew and loved her. I, along with the entire Grayson County District Attorney’s Office, continue to extend our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Palmer’s family and friends.

The Grayson County Criminal District Attorney’s Office handles each case individually, by applying the facts to the law in a detailed and thorough manner. This was done in the case involving Mrs. Palmer. We thoroughly reviewed all the evidence, investigated the scene of the accident, and took the additional step of employing an outside Accident Reconstruction Expert to conduct an independent review and prepare an expert report which provided conclusions about accident causation.

Under Texas Law, a grand jury must return an indictment before any felony charge can be prosecuted. The evidence in this case was presented to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury was presented with criminal charges and heard testimony from several witnesses. After a lengthy consideration of the facts and law the Grand Jury declined to indict. Several weeks later our office requested the Grand Jury to re-consider the case and the Grand Jury declined the request.

The Palmer family currently has a civil lawsuit for money damages pending against the driver who caused the accident. Our office has voluntarily provided the investigative reports, videos, expert witness reports, and other documentation to assist the Palmer family.

I have advised Mrs. Palmer’s family should new, significant evidence arise from their lawsuit, we would certainly consider it as we would in any other case.”

In the State of Texas, the statute of limitations for criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter never runs out.

The Palmers have a lawsuit against Foster pending in civil court.

House bill 558 passed the House committee for Homeland Security and Public Safety Wednesday with a vote of 8 to 1. It will now wait to be chosen for a vote of the full house.