NEW MADRID - In a small way, the Minner family considers themselves lucky. Their last memories of Claude DeLaney Minner Edwards are surprising him with a 43rd birthday celebration.
The day after his birthday, though, the family's luck took a drastic turn for the worse. DeLaney Minner was struck and killed while riding his bicycle.
And while the family has those few happy memories to return to, they continue to search for closure. They want to know who was the driver of the vehicle that ran over the man, who was a son, a brother, a father, a grandfather and above all, a good friend.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the accident occurred at 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at Route U in New Madrid's city limits. Minner, whose only form of transportation was his bicycle, had left the home he shared with his mother to ride into New Madrid. Although some daylight remained, the report noted the weather was rainy and foggy.
Minner's bicycle was struck in the rear by an eastbound vehicle driven by Albert S. Purser, 50, of New Madrid. The force of the blow threw Minner onto the hood of Purser's car, where he remained briefly until sliding off into the center of the roadway.
A second motorist swerved to avoid the accident. A nurse, the woman quickly turned her car around in hopes of aiding the victim. As she pulled her car off the roadway, she told investigators she saw a black truck approaching. Lt. Jim McNiell, commander of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop E headquarters in Sikeston, has interviewed the witness three times.
"The body was completely across center line - head to one shoulder and feet to other shoulder (of the road)," said McNiell. "Then she sees this dark-colored extended cab pickup, it was a GM product, coming east on Route U. She honks her horn, flashes the headlights, waves at the driver to say 'Hey we have an accident here.'
"Then she observes the truck run over Mr. Minner - twice - the front wheels then the back wheels. She describes it as 'thump, thump'," McNiell said, adding the woman then watched the vehicle leave the scene. Later she would describe the driver of the black truck as a young white male wearing a baseball cap.
Minner was transported by ambulance to Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston where he was pronounced dead at 8:03 p.m. Dec. 3.
McNiell said an autopsy indicates the fatal injuries to Minner were caused by the second vehicle.
A search for the second driver began by law enforcement. The Highway Patrol, members of the New Madrid County Sheriff's Department and New Madrid City Police officers were part of the investigation.
Those first few days, law enforcement officers received numerous tips. McNiell said they followed up on each. An accident reconstruction specialist, he has gone over the accident, time and again. He estimates he and the other officers have spent some 100 hours or more on the case.
"We don't like to have an unsolved accident on the books. We like to spend every bit of manpower we can to solve it," said McNiell. Sighing, he added he hopes that someone will come forward with a tip or an admission.
"When they ran over him it was an accident but they complicated the matter by panicking and leaving the scene - that makes it a criminal act now," he said. "If I don't get a tip this will be an unsolved crime that someone committed."
While solving the mystery would close the books on the accident for law enforcement, family members say it would mean even more to them.
Minner was survived by his mother, Floyd B. White Minner of New Madrid. Also surviving are two daughters, Natasha Lee of Kansas City and Channey Williams of New Madrid; two sons, LeKevin Williams and Cordell Williams of New Madrid; four sisters, Carol Peppers of Decatur, Ill., Delores Minner of Howardville, Anna Humphrey of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Greta Nelson of Decatur; six brothers, Terry Minner of St. Louis, Dennis Minner of New Madrid, Stephen Minner of Sikeston, Ray Minner of Detroit, Mich., and Jerry Edwards and Larry Edwards of Conway, Ark.; and three grandchildren.
His sister, Anna, said Minner's death is particularly hard on their 75-year-old mother. "He was her company, her protector - someone to be in the house with her," she said. "The biggest thing is her being lonely now."
Recalling how her brother kept a log of his daily activities, Humphrey chuckled and added he also loved to watch old movies and old television shows like "Andy Griffith." For 10 years, he had traveled the local roads on his bicycle, she added.
Describing her family as "God-fearing" people, she said they have forgiven the driver who caused Minner's death. "We don't believe it was intentional. It was just accident and that is why we don't understand why the person hasn't come forward," she said. "It would be a relief for all of us. ...It would give some closure for us and also that person."
Anyone with information on the accident is asked to call McNiell at 472-5200, extension 2221. All information will be confidential.