RIVERVIEW — In the photo, 6-foot-tall Chad Cagley is stuffed into a hospital jumpsuit, his head topped with a blue hairnet, a smile partially hidden behind a bushy brown beard.
Cagley, 20 at the time, was about to become the father of baby girl.
“He was nervous, he was excited, he was worried,” recalled close friend and roommate Dustin Cox, who snapped the photo. “When he held her for the first time, I’ve never seen him so happy in his life.”
Cagley worked hard to be the father he didn’t have, his friends said. Now 3, his daughter Aaliyah has been asking for him this week, said her mother, Stephanie Coomes.
“I try to explain to her that he went to heaven,” Coomes said. “I think she’s starting to understand.”
Cagley was heading south on Interstate 75 about 1 a.m. Monday when the crash happened. Another motorist, Charles “Wes” Wesley, saw it unfold in his mirrors.
Wesley remembers turning on his signal to move to the right lane and exit at Gibsonton Drive. A motorcyclist behind him, Cagley, slowed down and flashed his lights to signal it was okay for Wesley to move over. Wesley raised a hand in thanks.
“As soon as I did that, I saw a big ball of fire,” Wesley recalled.
A Ford pickup truck suddenly sped past Wesley on the left, then cut to the right, nearly running him off the road so it could take the exit. Realizing what had just happened, Wesley followed and called 911.
Wesley said the pickup driver turned off his lights, made an illegal u-turn, blew through a red light and stopped in the parking lot of the Lowe’s on Gibsonton Drive. Wesley parked at a nearby bank and directed deputies to the location. He said the driver tried to hide behind a tree until deputies saw and detained him.
Cagley, who was wearing a helmet, died at the scene, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The driver, 35-year-old Frank Joseph Fischer of Riverview, apparently stopped only because his truck failed mechanically, troopers said.
Investigators noticed the odor of alcohol on Fischer’s breath and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, an arrest report says. He also showed signs of impairment while performing field sobriety exercises. Fischer told investigators he was coming from Ybor City, where he had two vodka drinks, according to the report.
He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital-South due to “medical complaints” and refused to grant permission for a blood sample, so troopers obtained a warrant and collected one. He was booked into the Hillsborough County jail later that day on charges of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash involving death.
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Fischer was released from jail the next day after posting $90,000 bail, records show. He could not be reached for comment.
Public posts on Fischer’s Facebook account, which has since been deactivated or deleted, show he’s married with two young children.
Wesley, who is included in the arrest report, will be a key witness in the case.
“That driver didn’t have regard for human life because if he did, he would have stopped,” Wesley said. “I just felt he had to be held accountable. If (Cagley) was my family or anyone else, I’d want justice for them.”
Cagley was raised in the Riverview area and attended Riverview High School, then the South County Career Center, where he excelled in the culinary program, said close friend and classmate Quinton Kirby.
Cagley left school before graduating to help provide for himself and several young cousins he was helping care for at the time, Kirby said.
“I warned him against it but ultimately his instincts told him he had to provide for his family,” said Kirby, who, like Cagley, grew up without a father present to serve as a role model. “He said, ‘We’re going to to make sure they get somewhere in life and not fall into the same circumstances we did.’”
Cagley worked at a fish farm, moved on to sandblasting boat hulls and most recently as a helper for a window company. His friends describe him a goofy joker who liked to tease people. His skin was inked with things he loved: the University of Georgia’s bulldog; Sonic the Hedgehog, a rose with the word Mom.
Another tattoo, haunting now, features the Grim Reaper and the words, “Life’s only guarantee.”
Cagley’s sport bike could fly but he was cautious on the road, his friends said. Coomes said he told her he didn’t want to risk leaving Aaliyah, pronounced "a-LEE-ya,” fatherless.
He loved taking his daughter to the neighborhood pool and the playground. He remained devoted and attentive after he and Coomes split up.
“All he ever wanted was to be the father he never had,” Coomes said. “She had someone who was teaching her the right way to grow up.”
“It absolutely breaks my heart that he was going to end the cycle and show his kid what a loving father is and now he can’t,” said Kirby, who created a Facebook page to raise money to fund a "security savings account” for Aaliyah.
“It’s completely unfair that she didn’t get that chance he worked so hard for.”
Coomes said she plans to put a portion of Cagley’s ashes in a necklace as a memento for her daughter.
The two charges Fischer faces could land him in prison for up to 45 years. Coomes said a life sentence would be just.
“He can still he see his kids," she said. “My daughter has pictures.”