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Couple killed in crash on way to church

DIANE STEVENSON / Statesman Journal

A 1995 Dodge Neon (left) sits in brush after it was hit by a 1988 Chevy pickup on Jefferson Scio Drive. The driver of the pickup slammed on his brakes but could not avoid hitting the car. Medical personnel from the Jefferson Fire Department pronounced the driver of the Neon, Preston Wilkins, and his wife, Verda, dead at the scene. The driver of the pickup, James Preston, was not injured.

No charges have been filed in the collision with an oncoming pickup.

Statesman Journal
June 23, 2003

JEFFERSON — Preston Wilkins was due to teach Sunday school in Lebanon with his wife of 52 years, Verda.

He wore his brown suit and tie, and she wore her Sunday dress. But they never made it to church.

About 9:15 a.m. Sunday, Preston Wilkins pulled out onto Jefferson Scio Drive from Greens Bridge Road. James Preston was driving west on the same road when he noticed the Wilkins’ car in the middle of the intersection.

James Preston slammed on the brakes in his 1988 Chevy pickup, but he still hit the Dodge Neon and crushed the driver’s side.

Preston Wilkins, 76, and his wife Verda, 72, were pronounced dead at the scene. James Preston was not injured.

Keith Tilley, who lives nearby, was one of the first to arrive at the scene.

“I heard the skid. Then I heard a bang,” he said. “And it wasn’t good when I got here.”

Tilley said the intersection is dangerous because drivers cannot easily see oncoming traffic from the bridge on Jefferson Scio Drive.

Police have not filed charges, but they continue to investigate the crash. It doesn’t appear that alcohol was involved, said Steve Polanski of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. The speed of the vehicles has not been determined.

“It just looks like an accident,” he said.

The couple lived in Turner Retirement Homes, a tight-knit Christian community at the eastern edge of Turner. They moved there about seven years ago after Preston Wilkins spent time preaching in Montana, Canada and Washington.

He took a post at a small church in Sublimity called North Santiam Church of Christ.

When word spread Sunday that the couple did not arrive at its sister church in Lebanon, a handful of members from the North Santiam church searched the route to Lebanon by car. They discovered the accident and notified all 40 members of their congregation.

“They meant a lot to this church,” said Ruby Peevy. “They were just really good people.”

Naoma Dossey said Preston Wilkins administered everything from weddings to funerals at the small church.

“He was just a phone call away for anyone who needed anything,” she said.

The couple had the same reputation at Turner Retirement Homes.

Preston Wilkins commissioned a 6,000-volume library in the community, which is where he spent most of his time holding fellowship. He was known as an introvert with a dry sense of humor.

Verda Wilkins helped run the annual flea market and hosted the women’s support group. She also entertained fellow seniors at retirement communities and churches throughout the area alongside her best friend and next-door neighbor, Ruth Wood.

They put on comedy skits about aging to help people laugh at themselves, Wood said.

Wood’s husband, Howard, met the couple more than 50 years ago at Northwest Christian College in Eugene. They found each other again when the Wilkinses moved to the Turner community seven years ago.

The couple appeared to be in good health, Ruth Wood said. Verda Wilkins was a breast cancer survivor and Preston overcame two heart surgeries.



Last modified: December 05, 2003