From the Winchester Star —

WINCHESTER — Jimmy Kilbourne Sr., a former Winchester Regional Airport Authority member and prominent area veteran, was killed along with his son-in-law Michael Mercer in a head-on car crash on Papermill Road about 6:35 p.m. Saturday.

Mercer was driving westbound in a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban that was struck by an eastbound Ford F-150 pickup truck that veered into the westbound lane, according to Sgt. Bryan Smith of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. The crash occurred about 100 yards east of 3318 Papermill Road.

Mercer, 59, of Stephens City, died at the crash scene. Kilbourne, his 83-year-old front-seat passenger and father-in-law, died after being hospitalized, according to a Sunday email from Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.

Mercer’s 59-year-old wife, Victoria Mercer, and their son, James “Trey” Mercer, 17, were seriously injured, family friend Louann Dorrough said. Victoria Mercer was hospitalized at Winchester Medical Center, while her son was flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.

There were no other passengers in the vehicle.

Geller said the name of the pickup driver, a 36-year-old Winchester man, will be released once he is charged. She said he was hospitalized with serious injuries.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by Trooper Anthony W. Backus.

Michael Mercer was a retired executive from Northrop Grumman, an aerospace company and military contractor, Dorrough said. Originally from Montgomery, Ala., he was an avid gardener, golfer and gun enthusiast. He operated Mercer Shooting Sports LLC, which he described on Facebook as a small gun store run out of his home. He said he hoped to eventually open a shooting range. He also was studying to become a Virginia Master Naturalist. The work involves ecological and geological studies to promote environmentalism.

Dorrough said Mercer met Victoria Mercer in Rome around 1975 while their fathers were serving in the Air Force. They later reconnected and married in the late 1990s.

Friends and colleagues of Kilbourne described him as highly intelligent, outgoing, outspoken and a loving husband. He was married for approximately 60 years to Charlotte Kilbourne, who died in 2017. He was born in Wise County and raised in southeastern Kentucky before joining the Marines.

“I came out of southeastern Kentucky, doomed to work in the coalfields as a high school dropout, but I went into the service at 16,” he told The Winchester Star in a 2007 article.

Kilbourne served in the Korean War, but was discharged early after his mother complained to the Marines about him joining while underage. He later enlisted in the Air Force, where he spent 26 years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the 1970s.

During the Vietnam War, Kilbourne was awarded two Silver Stars for gallantry and three Distinguished Flying Crosses for extraordinary achievement. Assigned to the 602nd Special Squadron, he flew A1-E Skyraiders — propeller planes nicknamed “Sandys” — that were armed with bombs and napalm. Kilbourne’s duties included the extremely dangerous duty of flying in close support of “Jolly Green Giant” HH-3E helicopters rescuing downed pilots.

He later was a pilot for Army generals, including Gen. Alexander Haig when he was NATO supreme allied commander in the mid-1970s.

After retiring from the Air Force, Kilbourne was a car salesman and flight instructor. Being an extremely experienced pilot, he trained other pilots in getting their instrument rating. The rating allows pilots to fly relying on their cockpit instruments during periods of poor visibility.

“He was like a tough, old football coach,” said pilot and Winchester Regional Airport Authority chairman Gene Fisher. “He was a stickler for detail. And in instrument flying, that’s what it’s all about, because you make a mistake there and you’re dead.”

Kilbourne served from 2000-2007 on the nine-member authority representing Winchester. During his time on the authority, he helped improve airport security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A Republican, Kilbourne also unsuccessfully ran for City Council in the Ward One in 2002. He campaigned for a crosstown connector and a one-cent sales tax increase.

He served as post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2123 in Winchester in 2011-12. Like many VFW posts, Post 2123 has struggled due to declining membership. Former post commander Charles Hunter said Kilbourne sought to recruit younger veterans to join the post and tried to increase profits from fundraisers.

Ensuring veterans were well-provided for was a top priority for Kilbourne.

“I love, respect and honor each of you,” he told veterans during a 2006 community Veteran’s Day celebration. “More importantly, I’m one of you.”

— Contact Evan Goodenow at egoodenow@winchesterstar.com

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