Local News

Missing man says he wandered disoriented in woods for weeks after severe crash near I-540

Posted November 29, 2021 2:37 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2021 2:45 p.m. EST

— A Morrisville man who went missing after crashing his car into a utility trailer on Church St. beneath Interstate 540 is still alive – and has been found.

Dale Wheeler, 56, had been missing for more than two weeks after his car was found, badly damaged and splattered with blood. Authorities said it was surprising anyone could have walked away from the severe crash.

Wheeler, however, did walk away. For two weeks he was lost, while search parties and friends frantically searched for him, hoping for the best.

Where did he spend those two weeks after the crash? How did he survive? Why didn't he contact anyone?

Officials are working to piece together the mystery surrounding his disappearance.

People close to Wheeler say he did manage to walk away after smashing his car into the utility trailer on Nov. 12.

He actually managed to walk all the way back home, 3.9 miles away, before realizing he'd lost his phone. He then came back to try and find the phone, and got lost and disoriented in the woods.

When police arrived at Wheeler's home on Sunday, there were no "visible signs of injury." He was alert and conscious sitting in his living room, officials said.

"He looked like he was cold. He was shaking and confused," Sgt. Jason Miller said. "He kept repeating he’d been looking for his phone the whole time. He said he’d been in the woods the whole time."

Temperatures dropped below freezing during the past two weeks. Last Saturday, temperatures dipped to 26 degrees. It's unclear how Wheeler could have survived for days in the woods without shelter, food or water.

"He left the car keys in the car," said friend and search organizer Denise Spinelli. "Highway patrol just thought somebody crashed, abandoned the car and left."

Because of the blood and indentation in the windshield, she had feared that Wheeler had a head injury.

Wheeler says he'd been lost and disoriented in the woods.

Wheeler's neighbor Mike Zayas, who experienced his own traumatic brain injury in 2006 after falling off a skateboard, says it's possible for a head injury to cause this kind of confusion.

"I couldn't understand a lot of things," he said. "Like I couldn't understand my kids' names. I was in a bad place. So it does happen, and it does take a while for a person to get better."

Wheeler spent the day at the hospital being evaluated.

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