Altavista family, police grateful for community rallying to find missing 71-year-old man

Police say local agencies and hundreds of volunteers helped find Donald Wilkerson

ALTAVISTA, Va. – The 71-year-old man was reported to be missing on Tuesday.

Donald Wilkerson is in the ICU at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, after he was found lying at the bottom of a steep embankment near his Altavista home Tuesday.

“Given the amount of time he was out there, he’s in great condition. His spirits are good,” said Ashley Moore, Wilkerson’s daughter.

Moore, who spoke to 10 News Wednesday, said her father is an avid biker and went for a ride Tuesday afternoon.

Wilkerson was scheduled to arrive at Altavista High School, where he coaches cross country running, around 5 p.m., but was not present at the start of practice.

“Shortly after he didn’t show up after practice, we knew that the situation had, kind of, taken a turn for the worst,” said Moore.

That’s when the family called the Altavista police.

Chief Tommy Merricks said with help from other agencies, including drones and K-9 units – and support from hundreds of local volunteers – they found Wilkerson around 11:30 Tuesday night and airlifted him to the hospital.

“Exactly how he ended up down there would be speculation. I think it’s safe to say that probably the brakes on his bike failed,” said Merricks.

Wilkerson’s family said the details are fuzzy and don’t know how he lost control.

“I do not suspect any foul play at all,” said Merricks.

Merricks said the rally of support shows how much Wilkerson means to their community.

“The community outpouring is a testament to Coach Wilkerson’s character. I mean, I can say that because he’s coached my daughter in cross country before. He’s just a good, honorable man,” said Merricks.

And Wilkerson’s family is overwhelmed by the outpouring.

“It kind of brings us all to tears, when you take a step back and really think it; and we’re so appreciative,” said Moore.

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.