Elmer Lee Waite, a Santa Fe New Mexican delivery driver, was found dead in his van Monday after a multiday search.
Waite had been missing since Friday morning after he dropped off a load of newspapers in Clovis, N.M., around 3 a.m. He was expected to make another delivery to Fort Sumner, but never reached his destination. His body was found Monday morning by a state highway crew driving a dump truck down the shoulder of U.S. 60, according to a New Mexico State Police news release.
The crew spotted a white van suspended over a ravine near Fort Sumner. Waite’s body was in the driver’s seat.
Waite, 59, a Vietnam veteran, is remembered as a man of both humor and military discipline.
When he saluted the American flag, it was more than routine; it was a show of sincere patriotism, said John Adams, his friend of more than 10 years. But the memory Adams said he’ll hold onto is of Waite laughing. “It wasn’t a guffaw,” Adams said. “It was a loud chuckle that he would give.”
New Mexico State Police are still investigating the crash and the cause of Waite’s death, according to the news release. There were no signs of drugs or alcohol use at the scene, according to Juan Chavez, an official with the Office of the Medical Investigator.
Scot Stinnett, publisher of the De Baca County News, who helped in the search, said Waite was about 4 miles east of the newspaper’s office in Fort Sumner when his van left its lane, crossed a median, barrelled through a barbed-wire fence and came to rest in a steep-walled, 20-foot-deep ravine about 150 yards off the road. He said there were no skid marks.
Waite’s wife, 60-year-old Mary Waite, could not be reached for comment. Previously, she said her husband had been prescribed a drug for a seizure disorder but last took his medicine Thursday night.
Elmer and Mary Waite married in 1996. On the morning of the crash, he waited with Kelly Cook, another delivery driver, while his truck was being unloaded in Clovis, according to an article in the Clovis News Journal, and he told her that Mary was the love of his life.
Adams said he’s not surprised that Elmer Waite talked about his wife in the dark hours before his crash. He adored his wife, Adams said.
“My heart really goes out to Mary,” he said.
Elmer Waite was a mason and member of Santa Fe’s Montezuma Lodge, located west of the Scottish Rite Center, and that’s how Adams met him. He said Waite’s job as a delivery driver was a good fit because his friend was dedicated.
“I think that’s why were were all shocked that we couldn’t locate him because he was the kind of guy that through a rainstorm, a snowstorm — it didn’t matter — he would find a way to get through,” Adams said.
Before Waite began driving for The New Mexican in April, he worked at several businesses in Santa Fe. He was a heavy equipment operator for Richardson’s Excavating, a security officer for Pojoaque Gaming, an employee at Home Depot and an employee at Albertsons grocery store on Guadalupe Street.
Mike Reichard, New Mexican circulation director, said he almost always saw Waite with a smile on his face, even if he had just walked in after driving eight hours delivering newspapers. He even brought New Mexican employees aloe vera plants that his wife had grown, Reichard said.
Adams said he is glad the search for his friend is over. He will be missed, he said.
“Not only was he a great guy,” Adams said, “but he was a great example of how to lead a life.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at 505-428-7626 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NMDanSchwartz.