Nick Willhoit was that kid everybody loved. He grew up in a small town community in Atwood, Tennessee - a place where everybody knew everyone. He had gone to kindergarten with most of the students in his high school graduating class of about 80. He had played baseball from the time he was five through his senior year. He was the quiet, laid-back type, but he had a huge heart! If a teammate was getting picked on, it was Nick who stood up for them.
He wasn't the typical 21-year-old. He wasn't a big partier, but family was important to him. He had three brothers and adored his two young nieces! He spent most of his free time hanging out with his brother, Noah. They loved to watch sports and play video games. In fact, Nick was an avid gamer! He might chill with a beer or two while playing online with friends, but he did it from home.
Nick (pictured in blue) with his mom, Mandy, his 3 brothers, and his oldest niece
He was working at Lowes and living at home, but planning to start college classes in the Fall of 2016. In July of that year, he had to scrounge up some extra money to pay for tires on his truck. His mom, Mandy, worked as the only screen printer in a small shop and often had to work overtime including weekends. To earn some extra money, Nick had worked a few hours with her the week of July 25, 2016. She asked if he wanted to work that weekend as well, but he was already scheduled to work at Lowe's on Saturday and said he may have "plans" for Sunday. Mandy says he had been a little secretive about the girl he had been seeing lately, so she didn't ask any questions. Nick had been secretive, because, like any 21-year-old would be, he wasn't comfortable confiding to his mom that, Jackie, the girl he had been dating, was 34-years-old.
On Sunday, July 31, 2016, he and Jackie joined one of Jackie's friends and her husband, both in their forties, on their pontoon boat for a day on the water. They went out on the Tennessee River in Decatur County in the Perryville area. The friend's husband, who was driving the boat, had bought beer and they had been drinking. Nick and Jackie drank a few total because they didn't buy it. Mandy says that's just the way Nick was. He didn't like to take advantage of people, and because of the tires, he had been short on money that week. So it made sense that he wouldn't have had much. They had just left the marina and should have been going slow through the no-wake zone. However, the driver had the boat at maximum speed - about 45mph. Witnesses say he was going so fast that the front of the boat was out of the water.
That was where Nick was riding - in the front of the boat. Jackie was lying on the seat next to him with her feet in his lap. Jackie says they both had their eyes closed and were enjoying the sunshine and the wind on their faces. The driver's wife was beside him in the passenger seat. But a relaxing day on the water turned tragic in an instant. The driver drove head-on into a barge moored to the bank. His BAC registered .23 over four hours after the crash.
Nick's head had taken most of the impact. He was lifeflighted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. When Mandy got the call, she and Nick's stepdad rushed to the hospital. When they arrived, they were escorted to a room where Nick's dad and stepmom were waiting. The doctors came in and explained that Nick had a severe head trauma and he had already lost a lot of blood when he was brought in. They had given him five units of blood, but were unable to save him.