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Naming of streets to pay tribute to officers Cheektowaga force lost both in 1977

Anyone who walks to the information window at the Cheektowaga Police Department can see the photographs of Officers Robert Burgess and David Tolsma looking down from the lobby wall.

The pictures are more than 30 years old -- taken before the two men were gunned down in two incidents less than four months apart in 1977.

But the men have not been forgotten, and soon countless others will see their names: The two roads built behind Genesee Street will be named for them.

Burgess Boulevard was created at an existing traffic signal adjacent to 4217 Genesee St. It goes south and ends at a cul-de-sac.

Tolsma Place intersects with Genesee Street and is located along the former railroad corridor between Sonwil Drive and the Calspan east property line.

Council Member Thomas M. Johnson Jr. said the roads -- built as service roads when Genesee was reconstructed -- provide parallel carrying capacity for the hotels and retail establishments along Genesee.

It was an unbelievable time of shock and loss for the officers' families and the community in 1977.

Burgess, 27, who had joined the department nine months earlier, left a wife and 3-year-old daughter.

Tolsma, 34, a six-year veteran, was survived by his wife, 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

About half a dozen officers who worked with the two men still serve in the department. Chief Christine Ziemba was hired at the same time as Burgess and was working the night he was killed.

Capt. Richard Chamberlin said their stories are told to recruits.

"It's so important that we remember that their lives were cut short. Their time with their families was cut short because they were trying to carry on the law enforcement mission," he said. "Police have a mission. The police mission is [fighting] crime and public service. It's important we continue on in that mission."

He said the department looked at the incidents to see how it could improve. They underscored the importance of constant awareness and vigilence, as well as ongoing training, he said.

And they brought home the fact of life that members of law enforcement and their families face every day: "Sometimes no matter what you do, things don't turn out right," Chamberlin said.

While Burgess had been on the force a brief time, Chamberlin remembers him as an extremely good person.

"He had a good heart. He would do anything for anybody," he said.

Burgess was killed July 1, 1977, in Sattler's Drug Store on William Street when a man in the store -- who had reportedly been drinking from a bottle of rubbing alcohol -- grabbed his partner's gun and shot Burgess.

Tolsma was responding to a robbery alarm at the Holiday Inn on Genesee early in the morning of Oct. 20, 1977, when he was shot.

His daughter, Kimberly, was 7 at the time. Today she has a 2-year-old son, Maxwell David.

"I think it's appropriate his name go over there," she said. "That was his beat."

Tolsma's son, Jason, is a civilian public safety dispatcher for the Cheektowaga Police Department. He has a seven-month-old son named David.

"He was always willing to listen to people and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt," said Chamberlin.

"It's important we continue to do what they were trying to do when they were killed in the line of duty," he added.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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