Officials to consider naming bridge at Innes Street and I-85 for slain agent David Wilhelm

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
City and county officials will consider a resolution this week asking the N.C. Department of Transportation to name the Interstate 85 bridge over East Innes Street in honor of slain federal agent David Wilhelm.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners will take up the resolution at 4 p.m. Monday, and Salisbury City Council was discuss it at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Candee Wilhelm, David’s widow, set the wheels in motion for the naming of the bridge. Her request reached Carolyn Athey, clerk to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, who has been instrumental in getting the resolution drawn up and considered.
Candee Wilhelm said in her letter that naming the I-85 bridge over East Innes Street for her husband “will keep his legacy alive in a great way.”
“As so many can attest,” she added, “David made his mark on this world personally and professionally. That was confirmed to me as the calls, cards and condolences poured in to me from all across the United States from friends, colleagues, even folks that didn’t know him personally but had been touched by him in some way.”
She said she even received letters from people Wilhelm had arrested and put in prison.
“They made a point to reach out and tell me the positive impact David had made on their lives and how they were better people for crossing paths with him ó how David treated each one with human respect, no matter the crimes they had committed.
“To me, that is a true attest to how he lived his life.”
The city and county resolution will ask the N.C. Department of Transportation to erect signs designating the I-85 overpass as the “David Gray Wilhelm Memorial Bridge” with the words “Federal Agent” underneath his name.
Law enforcement officers are honored in North Carolina with bridge dedications, not highways. Dedications for law enforcement officers are for officers killed in the line of duty.
Resolutions from the appropriate city and county governments are required as part of the state’s naming process. An individual’s accomplishments and contributions to the state and community are used as criteria by the highway department staff and Board of Transportation.
A graduate of West Rowan High School and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Wilhelm was the son of Dwight and Betty Wilhelm of Salisbury.
Wilhelm was 40 when he was killed March 11, 2005, by Atlanta gunman Brian Nichols.
According to charges now pending against him, Nichols was being escorted to the continuation of his rape trial at the Fulton County Courthouse on the morning of March 11, 2005, when he broke free. He is accused of shooting to death a judge, court reporter and sheriff’s deputy before escaping.
Later, Nichols apparently surprised Wilhelm at a house the federal customs agent was renovating in northern Atlanta.
Candee Wilhelm said her husband’s death was ruled as “line of duty.” Nichols reportedly shot and killed Wilhelm after identifying him as as federal agent. Wilhelm knew Nichols was wanted for the earlier murders and attempted to take action against him, reports said.
Nichols took Wilhelm’s pistol, money and badge and drove off in the agent’s pickup. A construction worker found Wilhelm’s body later that morning in the house. Nichols was captured about 15 miles away and charged with four murders.
At the time of his death, Wilhelm was a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and assistant director of Homeland Security in the Atlanta office.
He and his wife had moved to Atlanta from Norfolk, Va., the previous November so Wilhelm could take the second-in-command position.
The local resolution says Wilhelm is remembered “as a kind and generous man who loved his family, friends and co-workers.” It notes his “outstanding career in law enforcement” and dedication and sacrifice for his country.
The city and county boards will set aside time for public comment on the resolution and request.
At the time of his death, Wilhelm had been a federal customs agent for 18 years and was considered a rising star in the federal agency. He won the most prestigious U.S. Customs award in 2001 ó the Blue Eagle ó for a drug seizure in Woodleaf that was the largest of its kind in North Carolina.
He led the federal efforts that seized four tons of marijuana and $1.4 million in cash in the Rowan County bust. A farm in Woodleaf was being used for off-loading marijuana smuggled in from Mexico.
Two years after Wilhelm’s death, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff named an anti-drug task force in Atlanta in his honor. The David G. Wilhelm OCDETF Strike Force focuses on regional, national and international drug investigations. It was set up to include 74 people from 18 different law enforcement agencies.
Federal officials also installed a plaque in Wilhelm’s memory at the Atlanta office.
Each fall, the David Wilhelm Memorial Golf Tournament is held in Rowan County.