Nicholas Cacciapaglia’s family remembers him as the one who wasn’t afraid to try anything.
He tried playing guitar in middle school and proved those wrong who thought that as an athlete, he wouldn’t put in the effort.
Then he decided to take up a new career in auto mechanics at the age of 22 and succeeded at that.
However, it was that “adventurous” attitude that led to the 24-year-old’s death, father Phillip Cacciapaglia explained.
“He had a thirst for learning and he was very determined,” the father said. “Sorry to say, but that’s one of the reasons why he got killed. He had the drive and determination to learn how to ride that motorcycle.”
Cacciapaglia, of Toms River, was learning to ride a Harley Davidson on March 13 in the parking lot of Ocean County Power Sports when the bike lost control, drove up the curb and continued onto Route 37, according to police reports.
First responders arrived near the intersection of Route 37 and Roosevelt Avenue about 7:30 p.m. and determined that he fell off the bike after entering the roadway and was subsequently killed by a passing vehicle, police said.
The motor sports store was closed at the time of the incident, according to police.
Cacciapaglia was with a friend while practicing in the parking lot and the motorcycle belonged to the friend’s mother, according to his family.
In 2018, there were 53 motorcycle fatalities in New Jersey out of 564 total motor vehicle deaths, according to the most recent report from the state Office of the Attorney General.
“He’s probably up there laughing right now, saying ‘haha at least I tried it,’” his father said.
Cacciapaglia was a mechanic apprentice at R&H Spring and Truck Repair in Wall. A former HVAC technician and quick learner, he recently had started working on larger vehicles, which his mother, Nina, said no other apprentice at the shop had ever done.
Motorcycle Accidents:Jackson motorcycle driver dies in Manchester collision Saturday
“They were just starting to move him on to working on bigger vehicles like class A RVs and utility trucks,” she said. “He only had to be taught once how to do something. He was very adept and gifted in the field.”
His parents were “extremely proud” when they heard how well he was doing and went to the shop to get a tour of the facility.
“It’s a family owned business, and they treated Nick like he was part of their family,” Nina said. “He loved working there and loved the people that he worked with.”
Cacciapaglia made the decision to go into mechanics after worries that a career as an HVAC technician could lead to arthritis as he got older. His parents said the transition was smooth because he already had worked on cars in his free time.
“He always used to work on his own car and helped his friends work on their cars when they needed it,” Phillip said.
Cacciapaglia’s family said he also applied his ambitious drive to learning how to play the guitar as a child, which was still his favorite hobby.
When he found out that the electric bass guitar would be available to take in middle school band class, he learned some of the basics from his friends, enrolled in the class and was shortly excelling at it.
“His friends taught him the bowing aspect of it and once he picked that up, it was really no big deal,” Philip said. “It was all pretty cool.'”
Ironically, when he first signed up for band, the teacher assumed that since Cacciapaglia was a football player, he was only taking the course to get an easy A.
By end of that school year, he wound up proving the teacher wrong, according to Philip.
“She actually told me that he wound up being one of the best students she ever had,” he said.
Described by his family as an “old soul”, who ordered an old-fashioned when he went to a bar with his friends, Cacciapaglia was a big fan of classic and progressive rock. His mom even recalls him being jealous of her because she had the chance to see Rush, a Canadian rock band that was popular in the 70s and 80s, in concert.
“I saw Rush in concert when I was in college and he was very envious that he didn’t get a chance to,” Nina said.
His mom added that one of the funniest memories of him was when he made a hole in the ceiling while trying to get the cat to come out of the attic in the middle of the night.
She said that he was unsuccessful at getting the cat and while he was trying to do it, his foot went through the dining room ceiling. He then went to bed without telling anyone what happened.
“The next morning, we noticed there was a hole in the dining room ceiling with the insulation hanging down,” Nina said. “It wasn’t funny then, but it’s quite funny thinking about it now.”
His girlfriend’s mom, Melissa, will always remember an ongoing joke Cacciapaglia had with her family that started the first day she met him.
When he arrived at her house for the first time, she was expecting a pizza delivery. After opening the door and seeing that he didn’t have a pizza in his hands, she said, “you’re not the pizza guy.”
During future visits to the family’s house, he would often walk in and say, “I’m still not the pizza guy.”
Cacciapaglia’s parents said they want people to remember their son for how kind and caring he was and his strong work ethic.
“He was just really nice, polite and respectful,” Philip said. “There was never one bad word said about him from anybody.”
His father added that he will never forget his son’s blue eyes and the fact that he was always smiling.
“He had these piercing blue eyes that people just fell in love with,” he said. “You never really caught him without a smile on his face.”
Nicolas Fernandes is the early morning breaking news reporter. A lifelong New Jersey resident, he has previously worked as a features writer and sports reporter. Contact him at 732-540-4401 or [email protected]