I-275 motorcycle crash kills UT senior

Nervous after a friend's bad accident, he had just posted an ad to sell his Kawasaki.

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG — In recent weeks family and friends of Nicholas "Nick" Kopplin said the 21-year-old had grown uncomfortable, even a bit fearful, of riding his motorcycle.

One of his friends had a bad accident on a motorcycle recently, and he pored over the pictures. So the University of Tampa senior posted an ad to sell the silver 2003 Kawasaki for $4,000.

"I love this bike," Kopplin wrote in the ad, "but it is time for me to move to a larger machine."

The posting was only a few hours old when Kopplin lost control of his motorcycle on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg and died Tuesday.

The Florida Highway Patrol said he was driving north about 6 p.m. at a high speed near the 31st Street S exit. He struck a guardrail in the median and was thrown from the motorcycle. He died at the scene.

"He was just being a punk, showing off on his motorcycle," said friend and mentor Norma Nixon, 50.

Kopplin was driving from Nixon's home in Gulfport to a friend's house in St. Petersburg, where he and his girlfriend were supposed to babysit the friend's 2-year-old daughter.

When Kopplin failed to show, his girlfriend, Lindsay Marino, 23, called his cell phone. A trooper answered and broke the news of Nick's death.

"He said to me the other day, if anything ever happens to me, I wouldn't want you to sit around and mope," Marino said Wednesday, her voice choked with grief. "He wanted people to be happy. He'd want me to keep on going and be strong."

Kopplin, a native of St. Louis, was supposed to move into his dorm today and begin his final year at UT when fall semester classes start Monday.

His adopted mother, Barb Millstone, 57, of Overland, Mo., said Kopplin could not wait to graduate with a business degree even though he was still unsure about a career path.

All Nick knew, she said, was that he wanted to earn a lot of money.

"He said, 'Barber you don't have to be working very much longer,' " Millstone said by phone Wednesday as she cried. "I'm going to take care of you."

The two talked by phone every day.

Officials said Kopplin was not wearing a helmet when he crashed, but his family said he always did and that the trooper on the scene told them it cracked and fell off Kopplin's head.

The trooper could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Friends and relatives said Kopplin was an outgoing young man who liked playing golf and spending time with his family.

Even though a skin condition kept him from joining the Army, they said, he still longed to become a military man.

"He just so loved life," Millstone said. "If anyone was down, he could cheer them up."

Nixon said Kopplin was a "remarkably happy kid" despite numerous obstacles. At age 12, he found his mother's body after she committed suicide.

On Sunday, Kopplin and Marino went to church together at Christ the King for the first time.

The day's message at church was about coping.

"He hadn't been since he was little," said Marino, a third- grade teacher at Broward Elementary School who met Nick at UT. "He was afraid to go.

"Afterward, he said, 'Thank you for bringing me. I feel better.' "

Funeral services for Kopplin are pending.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com