Surry County is mourning the loss of a highly regarded member of its law enforcement community, who was killed in a traffic accident on Interstate 77.
David Alexander “Dave” Wilmoth, 23, a resident of Crossroad Church Road, Dobson, died late Thursday night after the 2007 Toyota Tacoma pickup he was driving went out of control while southbound on I-77.
Wilmoth was an officer with the Dobson Police Department, and a former member of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, who was off-duty and reportedly driving home from some friends’ home when the accident occurred shortly before 11 p.m.
The vehicle left the roadway and went into the center median, then veered back across the southbound lanes and hit a guardrail, according to Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton. The pickup went over the guardrail and came to rest on its wheels.
“He was found deceased at the scene,” Shelton said of Wilmoth, who was traveling alone. The accident occurred between mile markers 97 and 98, just south of the N.C. 89 exit off Interstate 77.
Sgt. Mitch Whitener of the N.C. Highway Patrol said Friday it is unclear what might have caused the wreck to which Trooper H.A. Hiatt responded.
“We’re still investigating it,” Whitener said, noting that the road surface was clear and dry, with no patches of ice, snow or water.
Leaving a void
However, one thing not in question is the high esteem in which Wilmoth was held and the void his death has created, those who knew Wilmoth say. He was single, but is leaving behind a large extended family of co-workers and others.
“I knew him personally — he was a fine young man and an excellent officer,” said Shelton, the emergency official. “It’s a great community loss.”
The mood was understandably somber Friday around the Dobson town government offices, where Wilmoth had come to work as a police office in August. Before that, he had been a member of the Surry Sheriff’s Office for more than a year, working under his uncle, Sheriff Graham Atkinson.
Though Wilmoth had been on the town force for less than six months, he developed many friendships.
“We consider him family,” Town Manager Josh Smith said.
“Here, we’re a tight-knit group,” Smith added of the town work force that includes only 18 full-time employees, including seven full-time members of the Dobson Police Department.
“You could tell how well he was liked just by looking at all the faces of the people here,” the town manager said of the scene Friday.
“People have been extremely emotional and upset,” Smith explained. “A lot of tears have been shed for Dave — he had a lot of friends.”
Counseling was being offered Friday to co-workers of Wilmoth to help them deal with the loss.
The town manager said one trait of Wilmoth’s was his dedication to public service, which became apparent after he applied for a vacancy on the town police force last summer.
“You could tell that serving the public was a top priority for him,” Smith said of Wilmoth, who came to the job highly recommended.
“And it was clear from the very beginning that this young man was head and shoulders above anyone else” who applied for the vacancy, the town manager said.
Smith said such dedication to public service is a rarity nowadays, when law enforcement relations with citizens aren’t good in many communities.
Wilmoth served well as a police officer and approached his job with enthusiasm. “You could see it on his face,” Smith said.
Dobson Chief of Police Shawn Myers described Wilmoth “as an officer who was willing to help any citizen that he came into contact with.
“Officer Wilmoth was an outstanding officer and will be greatly missed within the Dobson Police Department and the town of Dobson,” Myers added.
Another former boss of Wilmoth’s, Sheriff Atkinson, also recalled him fondly Friday.
Wilmoth wasn’t interested in a law enforcement career at first, Atkinson recalled of his nephew, who was a standout athlete in both basketball and football at Surry Central High School. This led to his attending Lenoir-Rhyne University to play the latter sport after graduating from SCHS in 2010.
However, Wilmoth changed his mind and returned to Surry County, eventually enrolling in the Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) program.
The young man, similar to others, hadn’t known what to do with his life, but “found his calling” in law enforcement, and decided to dedicate himself to that profession, Atkinson said.
Wilmoth completed the BLET program in June 2014 and joined the Surry Sheriff’s Office the same month.
Atkinson said he proved to be a quick learner and developed a sense of maturity rarely found in someone so young. Wilmoth had a natural knack for dealing effectively with people in stressful situations.
“He had a calming effect…which is unusual with young officers at times,” the sheriff said.
While he could be stern when needed, Wilmoth also was a gentle soul who often was seen playing with young kids attending football games at his alma mater, where Wilmoth worked security and was admired by coaches, players and fans.
What caused the fatal traffic crash that claimed the young officer’s life might never be known, Atkinson acknowledged.
Speculation has produced theories including possibly falling asleep at the wheel or dodging a deer in the roadway.
“It’s just one of those tragic things that happens,” Atkinson said, and “you’ll never understand why.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.