ALLEGANY – As many as 2,000 police officers from all over New York and elsewhere joined other mourners assembled here in St. Bonaventure University’s Reilly Center early this afternoon to say a final goodbye to State Police Trooper Ross M. Riley, who died Wednesday during a training accident in the gorge at Letchworth State Park.
The service, scheduled for 1 p.m., was late in starting. At 1:15 p.m., an Allegany Fire Rescue ambulance, carrying the coffin, pulled up to the center, accompanied by 15 State Police motorcycles, four stretch limousines and a SWAT vehicle. Members of the clergy were waiting to accompany the coffin into the hall.
The shock of the 44-year-old trooper’s death was hard to take.
He was a Marine veteran of the First Gulf War who was married to a fellow trooper, Sgt. Heidi Riley, who serves as the station commander at the State Police Station in Olean. The Rileys have three daughters: Abaigeal, 10; Katherine, 8; and Jillian, 3. And he was well-respected for his values on and off the job.
All of that made Riley a trooper’s trooper, according to his colleagues, who said he lived to serve others during his 17 years on the state police force.
His coffin arrived shortly before the service in a volunteer fire company ambulance – a wish he had once expressed to his wife.
Just before the funeral service Major Michael J. Cerretto, head of Troop A offered this assessment of Riley:
“When it came right down to it, Ross was an outstanding family man. He cared about his girls and his wife and he enjoyed his time with them,” Cerretto said. “His loss is going to create a void in the State Police, especially here in Troop A.”
“He was probably the most genuine, kind-hearted, self-sacrificing individual I will ever know,” Trooper Jeffrey Bebak said.
Riley, an Olean area resident, fell to his death after he and two members of the State Police Special Operations Response Team-West, out of Collins Center, were lowered down 70 feet to a ledge where a mannequin had been placed to simulate a rescue.
Once the mannequin was secured in a basket to be hoisted up, Riley somehow became untethered from his safety line and fell backward, landing more than 30 feet below at the bottom of the gorge near Wolf Creek. He suffered a massive head injury and was rushed to Wyoming County Community Hospital, where he later died.
An investigation into the accident is continuing.
Riley, an Auburn native, was the 16th trooper to die in the line of duty in the last decade.
Trooper Kevin P. Dobson Sr. was the last local trooper to die. The 14-year veteran was struck and killed by a vehicle in March 2011 during a traffic stop on Youngmann Memorial Highway, near Colvin Boulevard, in the Town of Tonawanda.
As they waited for Riley’s coffin to arrive, 1,500 to 2,000 State Police and other law enforcement members stood at attention outside the Reilly Center.
State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico pointed out that police from as far away as Washington State are in attendance.
“This is kind of like a brotherhood when something like this happens,” he said. “Ross was a great guy. He was part of Emergency Response, what is known as SWAT, and one of the people we go to when we need help.”
Maj. Christopher Fiore, who is in charge of the emergency response team and was Riley’s boss, said the trooper’s lasting legacy will be how he helped to modernize the emergency medical equipment brought to scenes by troopers.
“He was always pushing to advance the team,” Fiore said.