Dad hopes son's tragic story will prevent other drunk-driving deaths

In November 2007, Mark Nichols of Highlands Ranch sat down with his teenage son, Matthew, and one of Matthew's friends. He had a pair of dice in his hand. He told them that if he rolled anything other than snake eyes, he'd pay them $10. But if he rolled snake eyes, they'd owe him $1,000.

A few minutes later, the boys had won $70. But then Nichols rolled a one and a two -- and the boys realized how close they'd come to a big debt. They said they didn't want to play anymore.

"I said, 'Every time you drink and drive, you're rolling the dice,'" Nichols says. "'And it's going to come up one time and it's going to be snake eyes, and you're going to pay the price.'"

Three months later, on January 23, 2008, Matthew Nichols died in a car crash. He was nineteen. His best friend, then-eighteen-year-old Jordan Wells, was behind the wheel, driving the pair home from a party. Both boys were drunk.

Two years after Matthew's death, Mark Nichols wants to make sure other teenagers don't meet the same fate. This morning, three billboards featuring Matthew's photo, a photo of Wells' mangled Hyundai Tiburon and the words "Don't Let Drunk Driving Kill Your Best Friend" went up on the sides of bus stops at three locations, including outside Arapahoe High School in Centennial and near the Gothic Theatre in Englewood. Nichols paid for the ads himself.

"My goal here is to reach young people and to give them another form of the message of 'Don't drive drunk,' especially if they realize it might be their best friend that they kill," Nichols says.

In early 2008, Matthew was a compassionate young man emerging from what his father calls a "rebellious stage." When he was seventeen or eighteen, he'd started drinking and "behaving foolishly," his father says. When his father called him on it, he moved out of his parents' house and into an apartment with friends.

In November 2007, it became too much for Matthew and he moved back in with his parents. He began working at his father's computer business and talked about turning his life around. He told friends he was the happiest he'd ever been.

And yet, when his friend invited him to a drinking party in late January, he went. Nichols was out of town when he got a phone call from his wife saying that Matthew had been killed in a car crash. He was the third son the Nichols had lost; in 1996 and 1998, they lost their two youngest sons to the same rare brain disease. The boys were five and six, respectively.

Nichols and his wife have forgiven the driver of the car, Matthew's best friend. Jordan Wells suffers from extreme guilt, Nichols says, and those feelings gave him the the idea for the billboards.

"This Saturday is the second anniversary," Nichols says. "The healing process is really, really difficult.

"This is what I decided to honor my son this year with."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar