PAOLA, Kan. -- The Kansas Department of Transportation continues to mourn the loss of one of its own. A snow plow driver was killed early Saturday morning while trying to keep the roads safe for all of us.
Stephen Nicholas Windler, known by many as "Nicky", was just 25, and an engaged father.
"I couldn't believe it. I go through moments where I wish it wasn't real. I wish he was coming home," said Windler's fiancee, Aeriadini Large.
But his family is confident he died doing what he loved, and hope the tragedy that took his life will bring an important reminder to us all.
Nicky Windler loved being behind the wheel of a snow plow. He'd worked for KDOT three years, but Saturday morning, near the end of a 12-hour overnight shift, something went terribly wrong.
“I tried to call him all morning and knew something was wrong,” said Large.
KDOT's statewide leader and KHP later knocked at her door.
“I kept asking if he was okay and couldn't get an answer. She finally told me he'd passed away. It was really hard and she (Nicky's sister) was the first person I called,” Large said.
“I remember it so clearly. 10:26 a.m.,” said his sister, Alicia Windler.
The crash report says Windler was driving south on 69 Highway near Stilwell, when he hit the shoulder, and drove into the grass. The plow spun, then flipped down a hill, where a cross now sits. Windler wasn't buckled up and was thrown from the vehicle. The plow truck landed on top of him.
“He loved his job so much. We always told each other, `Be safe.’ And he’d say, `I will babe. I promise,’” said Large.
Aeriadini and Windler share a 1-year-old son. She says he also became a father figure to her other two sons, a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old with autism. The couple recently got engaged and she's already missing the bright light that he brought into their lives.
“He was always happy. Always made everything positive no matter what it was,” said Large.
Though their grief is immense, so is the community's kindness and the support from their KDOT family.
“They’ve been amazing every step of the way. They call every day to see if we need anything. Everybody’s been amazing. I’m thankful for that,” said Large.
She’s now hoping as the winter season continues, everyone will take time to respect and appreciate plow drivers, who work tirelessly to keep all of us safe.
“Be safe. Be careful. Be patient with them, and just be careful. Go slow. Pay close attention,” said Large.
“And appreciate them,” Alicia Windler said.
“Say 'thank you' for everything that they do,” Large said.
Aeriadini has been a stay-at-home mom and has now lost the family’s sole provider. A Go Fund Me page is up to help the family.
Funeral arrangements are being planned through the Eddy Birchard Funeral Home in Osawatomie.