NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rev. David Wilkerson, founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City and author of the best-selling book, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” has died. He was 79.
Wilkerson died Wednesday afternoon in a car accident in East Texas, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said. Wilkerson’s car smashed head-on into a tractor-trailer rig after veering into oncoming traffic on U.S. 175 west of Cuney, about 95 miles southeast of Dallas, Mange said.
1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reports: Remembering David Wilkerson
Wilkerson founded the non-denominational Protestant Times Square Church in 1987 in an area of Manhattan that was then riddled with X-rated movie houses, strip clubs, prostitution and drugs.
Many went to the Church Thursday to pay their respects to the pastor.
“He was very kind, he helped a lot of people. When my son died he gave me a special service,” Sal Sorrentino told 1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks. “He was something unbelievable, I loved the man.”
“He’s such a wonderful man of God,” Billy Betts, who works security at the Church, said. “Such a warm feeling, and the love that he had for all people and he’d do whatever he can for anyone.”
Wilkerson also founded Teen Challenge, which uses a biblically based recovery program for drug addicts.
In “The Cross and the Switchblade” Wilkerson wrote about his early years in New York City administering to drug addicts and gang members. The 1963 book became a best-seller and was made into a movie starring Pat Boone.
His family confirmed his death in a statement posted on the website for Wilkerson’s World Challenge Inc. ministries, saying he “went to be with Jesus.”
“We appreciate your prayers and our hearts are sorrowful, yet we rejoice at the joy of knowing David Wilkerson spent his life well,” the statement said.
Wilkerson was not wearing a seat-belt at the time of the crash, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. His wife, Gwendolyn, was also in the car and was wearing a seat-belt, Mange said. She was taken to a hospital, where she was in stable condition with cuts and bruises, Mange said.
Along with his wife, David Wilkerson is survived by four children.
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)