2004-10-15 / Front Page

Burned Crash Victim May Not Get Proper Burial

Donald Palmer Jr. was killed and his body partially incinerated when his pickup, shown here, smashed into a tree on Flatbush Avenue.  
Donald Palmer Jr. was killed and his body partially incinerated when his pickup, shown here, smashed into a tree on Flatbush Avenue.

The father of a Rockaway Beach man whose body was partially incinerated in a deadly car crash on Saturday night – making it hard to identify – fought this week for the military honors burial he says his son deserves.

Donald Palmer told The Wave his son, Donald Jr., 57, was a U.S. Army veteran who fought in Vietnam and, despite being honorably discharged, could not be buried at a national cemetery this week unless the Brooklyn Medical Examiner positively identifies his body. Palmer, who initially thought bone measurements and an old chest X-Ray would lead to a positive ID, held hope that dental records, showing a steel pin inserted in one of Donald Jr.’s teeth, could be used instead.

With Donald Jr.’s viewing at the Denis S. O’Connor Funeral Home on Wednesday, Palmer said his son would be buried in the family plot at Maple Grove, in Forest Hills, Queens, on Thursday, if dental records did not satisfy the ME.

A grieving Palmer remembered his son as a talented tile worker who lived between his home on Beach 86 Street and his father’s home in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, and who was a bartender in Manhattan and at the Rockaway Beach Inn (RBI). “He was a regular Joe with a lot of buddies around town,” said Palmer, who once lived locally and owned Martin’s Corner and other locations in Rockaways’ Playland.

Palmer said he would at least try to secure an Honor Guard from Fort Dix, New Jersey, and added that he would have never anticipated such complications.

“[The Medical Examiner] is absolutely refusing a Vietnam veteran… because [the army] can’t accept ‘presumed’ on his death certificate,” said Palmer, who provided a DNA sample on Wednesday. Those results would not be available for five to six weeks.

Paul Narson, Vice President of the Queens Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said the organization was looking into helping Palmer, but said that it was “difficult to contact people on short notice.”

Donald Jr. was killed when his Ford pickup truck plowed into a tree and burst into flames on Flatbush Avenue, near the Marine Parkway – Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. His passenger, Matthew Madden, 61, of Rockaway Beach survived the crash but was nearly consumed by the flames as well. Madden was reportedly pulled from the wreck by other motorists who stopped to help. He went to Kings County Hospital. It was unclear what caused the accident, but Palmer said he thinks the tire on his son’s pickup hit the curb and sent the vehicle out of control.

The Wave was unable to reach Madden for comment.

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