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Off-duty Lancaster police officers on board boat at time of fatal accident

Two off-duty Lancaster police officers were on a fishing boat involved in a fatal accident near the Outer Harbor that killed Lancaster science teacher Eric Przykuta, Lancaster police Capt. William J. Karn confirmed Tuesday.

Karn declined to identify the officers, but sources identified them as Lt. Michael Cronin and Officer Shawn D. Zaffram.

Karn deferred all questions to the Buffalo police investigating the incident. A spokesman for the Buffalo Police Department said homicide detectives are investigating Przykuta's cause of death and the Erie County Sheriff's Office is handling the crash investigation.

Homicide detectives are awaiting toxicology results, Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said.

After the boat struck the breakwall, a call for help came in 11:08 p.m. Saturday and authorities from various agencies conducted a search for about 2 1/2 hours, said Buffalo Fire Department Division Chief Patrick Britzzalaro. Authorities found a 23- to 25-foot fishing craft and the two survivors before the search was called off, authorities said. The two off-duty officers, who were wearing life jackets, were rescued from the breakwall, authorities said.

The search resumed at daybreak Sunday. Przykuta, 43, was found dead that morning in the water about 30 feet from the breakwall. Coast Guard officials reported he was not wearing a life jacket.

Three men were on a fishing boat in the Small Boat Harbor when the boat crashed into the breakwall late Saturday. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

The waters were calm Saturday night, Britzzalaro said, adding that avid fisherman say there's danger in being on the lake at night. The breakwall is jagged and slippery.

"It's pitch black out there and you're in total darkness," he said. "You can be on top of the breakwall and not see it."

The search was conducted by the Buffalo Fire Department, Buffalo Police, the Sheriff's Office, the Hamburg Marine Rescue Unit and the Fort Erie Fire Department's Marine Rescue Unit.

Lancaster police officer Michael Cronin. (News file photo)

Cronin, who was hired by the Lancaster Police Department in 1995, could not be reached for comment early Tuesday.

Zaffram, who was hired by the department in 2009, declined comment when reached by phone by a News reporter.

Przykuta taught seventh-grade science at Lancaster Middle School for nearly 20 years.

"His heart was in the right place at all times," said John Bruso, an Erie County legislator who credited the dynamic teacher with creating a lasting impression on his son.

"My son graduated from high school in 2007, and he still kept in touch with his seventh-grade science teacher," said Bruso. "The guy made an impact on him."

Brenda Christopher, a member of the Lancaster School Board, recalled having coffee with Przykuta recently. Przykuta passed around photographs of his two young children taken with his iPhone, she said.

"He was an avid boater who could often be found on the water," said Christopher, a teacher in the Cheektowaga Central School District.

Przykuta was president of the teachers association for the last 10 years, said Michael J. Vallely, superintendent of the Lancaster Central School District. Przykuta also coached boys modified lacrosse and was given the Leadership Award from New York State United Teachers.

Lancaster teacher created lasting memories for a generation of students

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