GATLINBURG (WATE) – A discovery made in the ashes of the Gatlinburg wildfires is helping bring a small amount of closure to the family of a couple who lost their lives that night.
John and Marilyn Tegler had a cabin in Chalet Village for more than 30 years. The couple was from originally Canada, then moved to Georgia. Their East Tennessee cabin was their home away from home. John Tegler is described by his son as his hero and Marilyn Tegler as the quintessential mom. They would celebrate holidays and mark milestones here with friends and family. The happy memories are now tarnished and replaced with the horror of one night.
Scott Tegler, the couple’s oldest child, said via Facetime it was his own daughter who may have had one of the final conversations with his parents on the afternoon of November 28. They had said things were smoky, but did not seem overly concerned.
Then just hours after that phone call, people started to scramble to make their way off the windy mountain roads above Gatlinburg. The last message from the Teglers was from their home in Chalet Village just before 8 p.m. “She (Marilyn Tegler) said it’s smoky here. Sparks are hitting the house. We are packing up and leaving.”
Scott Tegler later learned his parents’ car careened off Skyline Drive. They were able to get out of the car and walk several hundred feet, only to be found clutching each other and their dog in the middle of Wiley Oakley Drive. It was nearly three days later before Scott Tegler got the call he feared.
“The hardest part from my perspective is being on the other side of what I am usually doing. When he asked me to send, about sending their dental records, that’s probably… I will never forget that, because I knew what he was saying,” he said.
As a fire chief Scott Tegler says he knows the reality of his parents’ final minutes, and it’s a nightmare he can’t stop reliving,
“It is a toxic bad atmosphere. You can’t see two feet in front of your face.” He also said it’s something he can’t accept. “There is 14 people, that we know of, that in my opinion should not be dead.”
His grief is now turning to anger and while crews in Chalet Village work tirelessly to try to bring new life to the area, Scott Tegler says he cannot lose focus on all those who were lost and getting answers for their families.
“You start wondering why. What is your reasoning for not doing this,” he said, “Why? It’s not about money, people need to be held accountable.”
In the midst of the ashes, four months later there was an unexpected discovery. A utility worker found a charred, almost unrecognizable wallet just feet from the intersection where Scott Tegler’s parents were found. Amazingly the owner’s name was still legible, so that worker gave the wallet to his friend Kim Pierce, who tracked down Tegler.
“I did not want to upset him because when someone one is dealing with grief, I was afraid it would might make it worse on him,” said Pierce.
Scott Tegler says he could not be more grateful because this discovery is much more than just a wallet.
“That’s a piece of my living father. That was in his pocket,” he said, fighting back tears. “I’ll frame it. I’m going frame it. It will be nice to have. It doesn’t replace them.”
Pierce and Tegler have become friends and she now has vowed to continue to comb the mountains with a metal detector, looking for his mother’s engagement ring as well. In the meantime, she made sure the wallet made its way back home.
“It’s there. You can see it. I haven’t taken it out of the plastic yet,” Tegler said. “For a brief moment it was like having a piece of your family back beside you.”