UPDATE: Detectives investigate death of Oak Harbor cyclist found on side of road

Denton Palmer, a well known Oak Harbor man, shows off his new bicycle. Palmer died Wednesday after being found next to his bicycle on the shoulder of a rural county road on Central Whidbey. - Photo courtesy of the Palmer family
Denton Palmer, a well known Oak Harbor man, shows off his new bicycle. Palmer died Wednesday after being found next to his bicycle on the shoulder of a rural county road on Central Whidbey.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Palmer family

A well known Oak Harbor man died suddenly this week following an ill-fated bicycle ride on Morris Road just south of Coupeville.

Denton Palmer, 78, was found along the 100 block of Morris Road lying next to his bicycle Wednesday, Feb. 16, at about 1:40 p.m. He was transported to Whidbey General Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Police are investigating the circumstances of his death. According to Island County Sheriff's Office spokesman Detective Ed Wallace, it's unclear whether Palmer died from natural causes or was struck by a vehicle.

Although Wallace said the man sustained "obvious" injuries to one side of his body, there are no other telltale signs that he was hit by a car such as skid marks on the street or damage to the bicycle. However, they aren't ruling it out.

"We just aren't sure at this point," Wallace said.

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop confirmed that an autopsy will be performed to determine an exact cause of death.

Palmer was well known in the Oak Harbor area, both as an active member of his church and as an avid outdoorsman. Those who knew him best described the man as gentle, thoughtful and unusually intelligent.

"He was the kind of guy who didn't have to study to get an 'A,'" said Duck Daugherty, a former Oak Harbor High School football coach and Palmer's brother-in-law for over 50 years.

Palmer was also extremely active. Whether he was downhill skiing, hiking or jogging, he was a man that just never seemed to run out of energy, Daugherty said.

"He'd would go out on a 60-mile bicycle ride and then come home and mow his lawn," Daugherty said.

Cycling was one of one of Palmer's great passions. In fact, he was on a shakedown ride of a new bicycle the day of his death. His wife, Eva Palmer, said he'd been very excited when he left for what he expected to be a three-hour ride down to the Coupeville ferry and back.

Although she did have a chance to see him in the emergency room, Eva Palmer said their time together was all to short.

"They tried hard to save him but we never really had a chance to say goodbye," she said. "We've been married 56 years and it's so hard to accept it."

A Seattle Pacific University graduate, Palmer had a long career in education. Before moving to Whidbey Island in 1991, he worked for many years as an elementary school teacher in Turlock, Calif. He went on to serve as the area's school district superintendent.

Palmer remained active following his retirement. He volunteered at his local water district board, spent nearly a decade serving as a Seattle Pacific University Alumni board member and president, and was an elder at Oak Harbor's First Reformed Church.

An "elder" is a position of distinction in the church given to those considered leaders who have attained a level of spiritual maturity in matters of life and faith. For Palmer, it's a title that was well deserved, paster Jon Brown said.

"He was a true Christian," Brown said. "He was a beautiful, beautiful man."

It's an opinion that seems to be shared by everyone who knew him. Palmer's son in law, Bob McManigle, said he was one of the those rare individuals that immediately put you at ease; someone you felt you could tell anything. In many ways, McManigle said Palmer was like a father to him.

"He's going to be deeply missed by a lot people," McManigle said.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m. at the First Reformed Church in Oak Harbor.

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