NEW YORK — The hopes and dreams of a young Metropolitan Opera stagehand disappeared in an instant beneath a No. 1 train.
The family of Joseph Ancona, dragged to his death after running to board an uptown Manhattan subway car following his Monday shift, was remembered as a vibrant young man with an ever-present grin, a love of sports and a girlfriend of four years.
“He was like the happiest-go-lucky,” his uncle Dan Coli told the Daily News on Wednesday. “They called him ‘Smiles,’ ’cause he always smiled and he was always laughing. … He was just a sweet kid.”
Ancona, 20, grew up in the north Jersey suburb of Westwood, where the sports-loving man — a slender 5-foot-6 — was an avid golfer who also enjoyed playing baseball and basketball. The son of a union electrician, he followed his father into the business, eventually landing his job in Manhattan.
“We’re just heartbroken,” his aunt Maria Ancona told The News from her Brooklyn home. “We can’t make sense of it. His parents are distraught. How do you gear up for this kind of news? I still can’t believe this occurred. Beyond consideration.”
Joseph Ancona was caught as the doors shut on the last car of a No. 1 train at 4:56 p.m. Monday, police said. He was killed after he tumbled to the Columbus Circle tracks. Ancona was running for the uptown train that ran him down while exiting the station, with police sources saying it remained unclear exactly how the accident occurred.
The sources said investigators were trying to determine if his backpack was caught in the doors or his foot was somehow snagged by the departing train.
“Everybody wants to blame somebody because it makes you feel better,” said Coli. “It’s not going to bring him back, it’s not going to make it any different. But it just seems like it was very preventable.”
Eyewitnesses contacted by a family member via Twitter suggested the subway’s doors closed quickly, with riders able to exit but some unable to get on board.
The victim worked in the Metropolitan Opera crew’s electric construction shop, with a Met spokeswoman recalling he was “respected and well-liked” after joining the staff just seven months earlier.
“I’m still in shock,” his reeling grandmother said Wednesday, while the family released a statement on GoFundMe saying the young victim “was loved by so many.”
Ancona, who left behind a twin sister Gianna, commuted into the city from Bergen County by taking a bus and a train each morning. Westwood police delivered the grim news to the family’s home about two hours after the death.
“He wanted to get a house,” said Coli, the brother of Ancona’s mom. “He had a girlfriend for a long time. Really sweet girl. She goes to Penn State. Her parents had to go out there and drive her home and tell her.”
The GoFundMe statement added a thank you for “prayers and condolences and … for thinking of our (us) in this difficult time.”
NYC Transit President Richard Davey described the death as “a terrible accident” and promised an investigation “will get to the cause” of what happened. But Coli said that was cold comfort to the mourning family.
“Life is, unfortunately there’s a lot of heartaches,” said Coli. “And you have to take every good positive thing in life, cause it goes that quick.”