June 19--CAMBRIA -- Thomas J. Burley, a 2011 graduate of Lewiston-Porter High School and a volunteer firefighter who planned to pursue a career in law enforcement, was identified Wednesday as the motorcyclist killed in a crash Tuesday night. He was 20.
The nearly 90-degree curve where the crash occurred, at North Ridge and Church roads, has been the site of a number of fatal crashes.
Burley was a resident of Youngstown and an active member of the Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department. He was reportedly heading home from his first day of orientation for accelerated firefighter training at the Public Safety Training Tower, adjacent to Niagara County Jail in Lockport, when the crash occurred at about 9 p.m.
He was westbound North Ridge when the motorcycle collided with an eastbound minivan. The driver of the minivan, Tanya M. Boyce, 37, was not injured. An investigation is continuing, but sheriff's accident investigators believe that Burley crossed the centerline.
Patrol units and Cambria Volunteer Fire Department responders found Burley critically injured, lying at the edge of the road. He was taken to Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston, where he was pronounced dead. Burley was a past member of the Lewiston Police Department Explorers Post and had worked in security at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
Lewiston Police Officer John A. Penzotti, who leads the Explorers Post, said Burley was enthusiastic about the program, attaining the rank of corporal and then returning after his basic training in the military to become an adviser.
"He was well-liked by all the kids. He was all about the kids. If they had a problem, they would go to him. He was the guy they could talk to," Penzotti said.
Penzotti acknowledged that he was still in shock over the young man's death when he spoke with The Buffalo News on Wednesday and was hoping for someone to call and say it wasn't true.
"This is not something you can prepare for. When you work with someone for a while, you just get close. We had a love of the same thing," Penzotti said. "He wanted to be a police officer, but he was too young to take the test. That time was coming shortly."
Penzotti added: "I am thankful that I had the opportunity to know him."
The Lewiston Police Department noted Burley's death with "heavy hearts." A statement on the department website mentions that Burley had planned to put himself through the Police Academy in hopes of becoming an officer in Lewiston or Youngstown.
"Tom no doubt would have made an excellent police officer someday. There will always be a seat in our patrol car for Tom," the website says.
Lewiston-Porter High School Principal Paul J. Casseri said Burley had transferred into the district from a Buffalo charter school a few years before his graduation, but in that time had quickly become well-known and well-liked in the school. Casseri said Burley was involved in athletics and Junior ROTC, the law enforcement Explorers and the Volunteer Fire Department and was deeply involved in training to be a paramedic for the department's Emergency Medical Services unit.
Casseri cited Burley's dedication as a firefighter and his poignant notation in the yearbook, where he said, "Firemen never die. They live on the lives of the ones they saved."
Hundreds of people echoed those thoughts, reaching out on Facebook fire and police websites in Lewiston and Youngstown on Wednesday to offer condolences.
Copyright 2013 - The Buffalo News, N.Y.