Travis Koehler spent his days fixing things. He liked to be challenged. He was eager to acquire new skills.
Last Feb. 2, he tried to save the life of a fallen co-worker at The Orleans and, in the process, gave his own at the age of 26.
David Snow almost died that day. He went into a sewer hole after Koehler and the other man, to no avail.
Almost a year later, the Koehler and Snow families still grieve.
Debi Koehler-Fergen misses her son so much she aches sometimes. In his memory, she wears a silver bracelet made from a necklace he wore the day he died.
Memories of Travis are everywhere, including in the ceramic tiles on her kitchen floor. The work is impressive for a largely self-taught laborer.
"He was always looking out for me," his mother said. "He was the kind of kid who was always there for anybody who needed him."
Koehler grew up in small-town Utah and moved back there at age 20 when his younger brother, Brandon, indicated he wanted to drop out of high school.
"He came back for six months to make sure I stayed on the right track," Brandon Koehler said. "He explained to me I was about to make a bad choice."
Snow, the only survivor of the three co-workers, still struggles to make sense of that February day.
"There are no words that can really explain the loss I feel for my friends' families," he said. "I am their voice to what happened."
It started and ended underground.
Sewage was flowing into The Orleans' underground system for collecting grease discharged from the hotel. A clogged pipe was causing the problem. If it persisted, waste could have shot up through the hotel's sinks and toilets.
Normally, the hotel called in a company that specialized in these jobs.
Not this time.
Richard Luzier, a newly hired plumber, entered a manhole with a saw to see what he could do. Luzier, 48, cut the plastic pipe, releasing a torrent of sewage and noxious fumes that sent him to the bottom of the pit.
What happened next is in dispute.
Did Koehler and Snow go into the pit voluntarily to help? Or were they ordered in?
State regulators were unable to reach a firm conclusion. Snow maintains supervisors pressured them to go in the sewer.
Undisputed is that none of the men had the equipment or training for such a job.
Koehler and Snow on a daily basis helped operations run smoothly at The Orleans.
Koehler started in the summer of 2004 changing light bulbs and fixing toilets. He quickly advanced to more demanding and complicated jobs. The week before his death, he worked deep into the night to install TVs in the casino sports book.
He was nagged by tendonitis in his elbow but worked through it, his mother said. He kept a tube of Super Glue handy to plug nicks and scrapes on his shaved head.
Snow, who had worked at The Orleans for 18 months, was badly burned in the hotel's kitchen just a month before the tragic incident.
On that February day, Koehler went to the bottom of the pit and reached Luzier. Koehler shouted to the men above that Luzier was OK and that they should get some rope. Then he too lost consciousness.
Snow climbed in next but was quickly knocked out by the hydrogen sulfide fumes.
In the frenzied aftermath, a Clark County Fire Department rescue squad arrived to pull all three men out of the hole. Only Snow was still alive, and barely so.
Machines kept Snow alive for 23 days after the incident. His wife, Kelly, wasn't sure if he'd ever come back to her and their two young daughters.
"We expected the worst," she said.
Koehler didn't live to start a family of his own. He was to marry Krystle Johnson on 8/8/08, a date they viewed as symbolic of infinite love.
His mom was helping the soon-to-be newlyweds find a new house. "A couple times I've had to stop myself from driving by a house and thinking, 'Oh, I need to tell Travis about that one,'" she said.
After an investigation of the incident, state regulators cited Boyd Gaming for nine safety violations and fined the company $185,000. The company's profits were $117 million last year.
Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell praised Koehler and Snow's actions.
"These two individuals acted selflessly and heroically in trying to save their fellow employee," he said.
Snow is back on his feet, but he doesn't know how long he'll live. He's only 30, but the toxic fumes he inhaled did a number on his heart and lungs. His gall bladder has been removed. His risk of cancer is higher than before.
He went back to work last June at Sam's Town, another Boyd property. His first job was sorting decks of playing cards. A few months later he was back at full duty.
He recently was asked to check a reported methane smell in the hotel. From time to time, he sees sewer trucks at Sam's Town that he feels should have been called the day he nearly died.
It's times like these when the events of last February come back to him.
"Everything changed that day," he said. "There isn't a waking or sleeping moment when this doesn't go through my head."
COMING TUESDAY: Meet a North Las Vegas woman who gave permanent homes to seven children not originally her own.