Wet, cold weather is fast becoming the critical factor in the search for murder suspect Eugene Palmer in and around Harriman State Park.
Dr. Craig Van Roekens, who has specialized in emergency medicine for more than 20 years at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, said Tuesday evening he doubts the 73-year-old Palmer can survive in the park in coming weeks.
"Rain obviously will increase the risk of hypothermia," Van Roekens said. "His age will reflect on his body's physiological ability to battle the cold."
If, indeed, the elusive suspect is still in the wilderness, Van Roekens fears the worst.
"The odds are very slim that he ends up surviving," Van Roekens said. "At some point, he would succumb to the elements. A 73-year-old isn't the 18- or 30-year-old you hear about surviving a situation like this."
Police continue to suspect that Palmer still might be hiding in the park, but only because Palmer's family seem focused on that possibility, continuing to look for him there. Town of Haverstraw Police Chief Charles Miller said Tuesday he believes that Palmer's son, Clarence, is still searching the park daily.
According to Miller, the son has told police his searches have turned up no clues.
"Only because his family is still in there searching and they think he's in there, that's what we're going on," Miller said. "I believe if he left the park, they would have been notified and eventually they wouldn't be out there as much."
Miller also believes the fall weather could kill Palmer before police find him.
"I hope we find him alive," Miller said Tuesday evening.
Last week, Miller ordered an end to police searches within the park, explaining that wet weather had made the craggy, heavily wooded park too dangerous.
Palmer is wanted for questioning in connection with the shooting death of his daughter-in-law, Tammy Palmer, 39. She was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest on his property in Haverstraw on Sept. 24. She had been living there with her husband, John Palmer, and their two children, while the couple dealt with marital problems.
Tammy Palmer's family believe she was killed because she had brought domestic violence charges against her husband and had resisted Eugene Palmer's requests that she drop the case.
The couple's two young children have been turned over to their maternal grandparents indefinitely, and John Palmer has been granted limited visitation rights.
Miller said yesterday that police continue to check every scrap of new information they turn up on the fugitive.
"We're trying to nickel-and-dime everything we can put together," Miller said. "We haven't gotten any concrete information. All the interviews our detectives have been conducting, they follow up on. Whatever it takes us to find him."
Police focused their search on Harriman State Park when an initial check of the park turned up Eugene Palmer's truck and a campsite where he might have stayed for a night or two. Family and friends have described Eugene Palmer as an experienced outdoorsman who is familiar with the park.
Van Roekens acknowledged the possibility that the suspect might have entered the park with gear sufficient to support survival there for an extended period.
"He's not somebody who was dropped off in the park without any supplies," the doctor said. "He fled, so that means he could have taken lighters, matches and other materials to ensure his survival."
Although there is plenty of fresh water throughout the park, finding food could pose a problem, Van Roekens said.
"Two to three weeks is the outer limit to survive without food," he said.
Van Roekens suggested that food and water would be the least of Eugene Palmer's problems, if he indeed remains in the park.
He said that hypothermia -- a crippling and finally fatal drop in body temperature -- likely would be the key challenge confronting the fugitive. According to Van Roekens, hypothermia becomes a major issue as soon as outdoor temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Overnight temperatures have been hovering around 35 degrees this week in the area of the park.
Eugene Palmer is known to have a history of diabetes, but neither police nor family has disclosed what type or how severe a case Palmer has.
"If he does have medical supplies, his medication, he will run out at some point, which will become an issue," Van Roekens said.
Detectives have asked a judge to sign subpoenas that would allow them to check Eugene Palmer's bank records so they can determine whether he has accessed any of his accounts. Police are monitoring pharmacies as well in hopes of picking up any attempt to refill a prescription.