The last time the Penn State football team played Temple University, Penn State student Erik Nistad was alive.
Nistad, 20, stood in Beaver Stadium's football stands with his father, with whom he shared his name, and together they watched Penn State crush Temple 45-3.
Seven months later, on April 11 -- his 21st birthday -- Erik Nistad was killed instantly when he crashed a car into a tree near his Milford, Pa., home. He was driving under the influence of alcohol with a .20 percent blood alcohol content at the time.
At first, mother Christine Nistad said she didn't want people to know her son was drinking and driving. When she learned that alcohol was involved in the incident, she told the coroner not to tell others. "I told him that this was to be kept quiet," she said. "I didn't want people to think, 'Oh, another drunk driving accident.'"
But State College Police Department Lt. Chris Fishel said drunk driving is unfortunately common across the area.
Fishel said Penn State football weekends routinely have more DUI arrests than any other weekend. Last weekend alone, State College police issued 11 DUIs, according to police reports. Erik Nistad said he realizes this kind of thing will happen again, but he still hopes for change. In a series of conversations throughout the summer, Erik Nistad revealed his struggle to cope with his son's death and his desire to make sure Erik's life teaches others a lesson about driving under the influence.
For Nistad, PSU has become just one of the many reminders of his son, whose life he said ended too soon. "There are just different things that happen that pop up and take me back to the morgue," he said.
How it happened
It was about 7 p.m. when Mr. Nistad arrived back to Milford after his flight from Chicago, where he resides.
His son's mother, Christine Nistad, said she tried calling her ex-husband at about
6 a.m. to tell him the news, but he was asleep because of the time difference.
The last time she spoke to her son was in the family room hours before the accident, she said. It was after midnight and he had just come back from a friend's house.
A day earlier, he returned home for the weekend to celebrate his birthday.
"We rattled off everything we were going to do on his birthday," she said. "We were going to get up, get breakfast, go bowling. And he wanted new sneakers."
That night, he told his mom he was going to his friend's house. Christine Nistad jokingly told him to finish his homework. She later heard him on the computer downstairs. It was past midnight so she told him to go to bed. She went to bed and said she woke up to her worst nightmare an hour and a half later -- police officers knocking on her front door to tell her Erik was dead.
"I had to run in the bedroom to see if he was still there," she said. "I thought they made a mistake. Then my car was gone. The officers said they might have smelled alcohol and I said, 'No way. That's not what Erik's about.' "
Police said he lost control of the vehicle on a winding road and hit a tree 70 feet away, dying instantly. Neither of his parents know where he was going -- just one of the many unanswered questions they're left with after their son's death.
A mother mourns
Christine Nistad lives alone. No one was awake to answer her calls the night her son died. It was too early in the morning. Police wouldn't leave until she got company. Hours later, she went to the coroner, a family friend, who wouldn't let her see her son's body. But his father said he wanted to see it. Later that evening, Mr. Nistad's flight landed and he went to the coroner's office.
The right side of his son's face was crushed and bloody, but the part "that bothered me so much was that his body was so cold," he said.
A few days after the funeral, their daughter drove back to Penn State to collect Erik's belongings and his father returned to Chicago. Christine Nistad placed the boxes in Erik's room and closed the door.
Months later, she had to open it. She unpacked clothes and cleaned his room.
"I didn't throw anything out -- everything is still in his room," she said. "I washed all of his clothes and folded them into the dresser. He was supposed to be home this summer."
Not another statistic
It's been a long summer for the Nistads, who both said their son's death has severely impacted their life. Christine Nistad doesn't believe she'll get over the incident.
"Sometimes, I just can't breathe," she said.
Erik Nistad said he gets both angry and sad when he thinks of his son's death.
"I'd like something to come out of this. I'm not quite sure what, but I want his life to mean something," he said.