By Joe Johnson
Carolyn Adams has yet to come to grips with the tragic loss of her son a month ago.
Sanchez “Cheese” Elder, 25, was killed by a hit-and-run driver the night of Nov. 23.
The woman’s grief is compounded by the fact her son was left for dead in a roadside ditch just days before Thanksgiving, and now she is facing having to endure Christmas without him. Five days after Christmas, on Dec. 30, Elder would have celebrated his 26th birthday.
Adams said she believed the person who killed her son did so accidentally, and she called on the person to turn themselves in.
“I would like the person to come forward and admit they made a mistake,” Adams said.
“I’m not the one to judge you – God will do that, but if you have a conscience please come forward and let us have closure in 2019 and not make us carry this into 2020,” Adams said.
Elder, who friends called “Cheese” because of his ever-present smile, was a little person who left large footprints in people’s lives.
He was admired in the community because of his lifelong battle with Achondroplasia, a disorder of bone growth that is characterized by dwarfism and such medical issues as difficulty breathing and eating. He was respected for always showing grit and keeping good humor in the face of adversity.
As an adult, Elder reached the maximum height of 4 feet, one inches tall.
Leighann Elder-Taylor, who was raised by Elder's great-aunt, said she and Elder were so close they called each other “sis” and “bro.”
“My husband and our children love and miss him so much,” she said. “I’ve cried every day and I can’t sleep at night knowing that Sanchez fought a good fight and the person who did this to him is still out there.”
Elder spent his last moments alive at a friend’s house on Cherokee Road where he and others gathered the night of Nov. 23 to watch the Georgia-Texas A&M football game on TV.
According to police, he was standing outside the house shortly after 8 p.m. when a southbound vehicle left the roadway and struck him before speeding away south on Cherokee Road.
Police said that a witness saw the white male driver stop the car after the collision.
“After hitting Sanchez, the driver briefly exited the (car) and quickly returned to the vehicle before fleeing the scene,” police Public Information Officer Geof Gilland said.
Witnesses described the vehicle as a silver 2004-06 Nissan Altima, according to police.
The car should have sustained significant front-end damage, and police have looked for the car by checking with area body repair shops as they continued to actively investigate the incident.
People have also phoned in tips and possible leads to police, none of which have panned out.
“We appreciate the public’s input but so far we have not located the vehicle that struck Mr. Elder,” said Lt. Jonathan McIlvaine, commanding officer of the Athens-Clarke County police Traffic Enforcement Unit.
“ Our investigation has been extensive – we have reached out to area body shops, spoken to other local law enforcement agencies, and have used advanced investigative techniques to locate the vehicle and/or driver,” he said.
“However, we are still searching for the vehicle (and ) if anyone has any information, we urge them to come forward to help locate the driver and/or vehicle in order to protect the public on our roadways,” McIlvaine said.
Don Eckert, an investigator with the Athens-Clarke County Solicitor General’s Office, was a police accident investigator for many years and formerly headed the police department’s traffic unit.
He said that Adams should not lose hope the driver who killed her son won’t eventually face justic.
Eckert said he was involved with several fatal hit-and-run cases that were not immediately solved.
In a 2008 case, A drunken University of Georgia student struck and killed a 12-year-old boy who was riding his bicycle on Barnett Shoals Road and fled the scene.
The student was arrested several weeks later after a tipster called police to say the student was on his way to a wrecker company to pick up his truck, which had been towed from where he illegally parked it at a mobile home park.
Eckert said another fatal hit-and-run case was eventually solved when a man reported that a neighbor was suspiciously concealing his damaged car under a tarp.
As for Elder’s death, Eckert said, “Someone has seen the car had been damaged. Someone other than the person who did it knows about it and they might out of good conscience eventually come forward.”
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in this case.
Anyone with information about Elder’s death should contact Lt. McIlvaine at (762) 400-7089.
Anonymous call can be made to the Crime Stoppers confidential tip line at (706) 705-4775.