A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947
WHAT HAPPENED TO TRAVIS LYNCH?

Retired troopers: Crash likely didn't cause man's disappearance

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This photo shows a 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix similar to the one Travis Lynch drove when he disappeared on Christmas Eve 2003. Retired state troopers believe the car would have been found by now if it had been wrecked on the roadside.
This photo shows a 1992 Pontiac Grand Prix similar to the one Travis Lynch drove when he disappeared on Christmas Eve 2003. Retired state troopers believe the car would have been found by now if it had been wrecked on the roadside.
Contributed photo
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A Wilson man who disappeared in southern Nash County more than a decade ago would more than likely have been found if he ran his car off the road as a suspect in the case contends, according to retired state troopers who have worked thousands of crashes in the area over the past three decades.

Travis Lynch, 21, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2003. His girlfriend, Carlisha Whitley, told authorities that Travis left her home near Middlesex late that night.

Detectives with the Nash County Sheriff’s Office don’t buy her story and have confirmed she’s a suspect in Travis’ disappearance.

Whitley denied being involved in Travis’ disappearance during a recent interview with this newspaper. She threatened a lawsuit if she’s connected to the case in print.

Retired state trooper Ronnie Summerlin spent six years with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and 21 years with the N.C. State Highway Patrol. He has no connection to Travis’ case, but has worked thousands of wrecks in the exact area Travis is said to have driven the night he and his white 1992 Grand Prix vanished.

Summerlin said it’s not likely a wreck could go this long without any evidence surfacing.

“A lot of times people would wreck and get their vehicle towed before we arrived at the scene, but you could tell a vehicle crash had occurred,” Summerlin said. “There have been cases where vehicles were found in a pond submerged under water for months or years and the (driver and passengers) were found in the vehicle.”

In many cases when troopers arrive at a wreck scene, the driver is long gone, but the vehicle is still there, Summerlin said.

“It’s then followed up by finding the registered owner of the vehicle to see who was driving it last and go from there,” Summerlin said.

Given his experience, Summerlin said it would be unlikely for a car to crash between Middlesex and Wilson, killing the driver on impact, without leaving a trace to be found in more than 15 years. 

“I would say it’s very strange that nothing has been found,” Summerlin said. “If a vehicle ran off the road, it’s likely it left some type of evidence that a crash had occurred or it had been towed away from the scene.”

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone, himself a retired state trooper, agrees with Summerlin.

Stone has worked hundreds of traffic wrecks. He said it’s highly unlikely — but not impossible — that a crashed car could go years without discovery.

Stone said he had a cousin in South Carolina who crashed into a body of water and wasn’t found for around 10 years.

“When they pulled the car out of the water, her skeleton was still in the driver’s seat,” Stone said.

But that scene isn’t likely to ever occur in Travis’ case, Stone said.

First, the Nash-Wilson area has shallow bodies of water. Second, deputies checked then and have rechecked all the waterways under bridges in the area. Third, divers have checked other bodies of water along the route and other bodies of water in the immediate area. 

No trace of Travis or his car have ever been found, Stone said.

Anyone who might know anything about a car fitting the description or knows what happened to Travis is asked to give detectives a call. Sheriff’s Maj. Miste Strickland can be reached at 252-532-4574. There’s a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case.

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