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Morgan County and Athens-Limestone rescue squads arrive at the area off the Point Mallard walking trail where a man walking his dog discovered the body in the Tennessee River on Thursday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Morgan County and Athens-Limestone rescue squads arrive at the area off the Point Mallard walking trail where a man walking his dog discovered the body in the Tennessee River on Thursday.

Missing man's body found
Grim discovery near Point Mallard trail

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

A man walking his dog discovered the body of a missing Neel man afloat in the Tennessee River near the Point Mallard golf course Thursday morning.

The fifth day of the search for Jeffery Todd Palmer, 43, ended shortly after 8 a.m. The missing kayaker's remains were in the water a short distance from the bank and upriver from the General Electric plant where he worked, Decatur police said.

"At this point, it appears to be an accidental drowning," said Lt. Dennis Hughes, a Decatur police spokesman.

Hughes said Palmer's body was taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences to rule out any foul play.

"It appears that he was coming across the river and fell overboard, out of his kayak. He was not wearing a life jacket," Hughes said.

Morgan County Coroner Russ Beard said he hopes to receive autopsy results as early as Friday.

Beard said it appeared Palmer's body had been in the water for as many as six days.

Palmer was last seen when he checked in at the GE guard shack at 11 a.m. Friday before setting off from the company boat launch on an arrowhead-hunting expedition.

Palmer talked to a friend by cellular phone that afternoon. Palmer told his friend that he had found a nice arrowhead and was preparing to head home, said Lt. Danny Kelso of the Morgan County Rescue Squad.

Rescuers searched the area around the GE plant extensively after finding Palmer's kayak, jacket and truck keys in a slough behind the plant.

After thoroughly dragging the slough, the rescue squad decided it would resort to river patrols in other areas of the river beginning Thursday, Kelso said.

"At 6 a.m. myself and another rescue squad member had went and got into a boat and began river patrol. We had searched the south bank and north bank around the GE area, but his body came up east of the perimeter we had been concentrating in," Kelso said.

Kelso said the kayak probably drifted downstream after Palmer went into the water.

Dell Ward of Decatur said she and two friends were walking at Point Mallard shortly after 8 a.m. when a man on the trail with them spotted Palmer's body.

"The guy who spotted it came up to us and wanted to borrow our cell phones," Ward said. "We had left them at the car. Thinking something was wrong with him or wrong with his dog, we asked him, 'Why?' He said, 'I spotted the missing person, and the body's right down there,' and he showed it to us."

Ward said she and her friends had walked past Palmer's body without noticing.

"It was kind of shocking," she said. "We had all been keeping up with it. It was just kind of a shock to think that we were there."

Bobby Jackson of Decatur said he was jogging on the trails when he heard fire engines en route to the call.

"I heard the fire truck turn in to the service road, and that was the first thing that hit my mind — I knew that they were looking for Mr. Palmer," Jackson said.

Jackson said Palmer's body was floating facedown about 15 feet from the bank.

"I know several people that worked with him out at GE. I hate that it ended up like it did, but I'm sure the family's glad that they at least found him," Jackson said.

The search, which began Sunday, about 48 hours after Palmer had last been seen, involved numerous agencies.

Kelso said rescue squads from across Alabama joined in the effort, as well as dog teams, helicopter units, Alabama Marine Police, Decatur police, Decatur Fire and Rescue, the American Red Cross, the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency and the Salvation Army, which provided meals for the rescuers.

Funeral plans for Palmer had not been announced as of late Thursday.

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