Sunday, March 8, 2015

Paths of peril: Joe Scott Nichols

News-Press Sunday 3/8/15 Bike Safety Feature: Paths of peril

Janine Zeitlin, Melanie Payne and Laura Ruane,,

Each Southwest Florida bike death is a different, heartbreaking story...this is Joel Scott Nichols' story.

Joel Scott Nichols, 27

Crash date: Feb. 1, 2015

Branden Walsh, left, with his 27-year-old brother Joel Nichols. Nichols was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle Feb. 1 in Cape Coral. Nichols was struck around 8 p.m. but was not discovered until after 7 a.m. due to poor lighting, according to Cape police. (Photo: Courtesy of Branden Walsh)
Branden Walsh nearly cut his little brother's umbilical cord. Not really, but it felt that way. He changed his diapers. He taught him to swim, hike and skateboard. When Joel developed a stutter, Walsh coached his brother, 10 years younger, to relax. Concentrate. Slow down.

"Everything a dad would do for his kid," said Walsh, 37.

About 10 years ago, Walsh and Joel Nichols moved here after coming for vacation and deciding to stay, lured by well-worn dreams of a living in paradise. "Joel didn't really care as long as we were here together."

Nichols stayed in Cape Coral, where their mother had a home. Walsh moved to Naples, where he works as a chef. Nichols became a pizza cook, working two part-time jobs. In his down time, he played guitar. He dedicated a song to his mother on YouTube posted under "Joel the Rocker." Walsh liked to hear him play Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

On Sunday, Feb. 1 around 8 p.m., Nichols was pedaling home from work when he was hit on northeast Pine Island Road. His body wasn't found until 11 hours later. By then, he was dead. Police said poor lighting contributed to the lag that gnaws at his brother.

"I bet you 80 percent of this accident could have been prevented with proper walkways, proper lights and proper bike lanes," Walsh said.

The evening after Nichols was struck, Cape police found a damaged, Dodge Ram pickup a witness had described at the home of 48-year-old Timothy Wayne Turner. He told police he was the driver. He was arrested on a charge of hit-and-run causing death.

Related: Driver arrested in Cape Coral hit-and-run fatality

Walsh feels like he lost a best friend, brother and child.

"We're still not ready to cope with it and we're just trying not to, which I know is not the right way, but the only way I know how."

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