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Motorcyclist killed in Cambria crash leaves legacy of devotion to firefighting

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 at North Ridge and Church roads, where the crash occurred, has been the site of several fatal crashes.

Burley was a resident of Youngstown and a 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 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 said he was still in shock Wednesday. “This is not something you can prepare for. When you work with someone for a while, you just get close,” he said. “… He wanted to be a police officer, but he was too young to take the test. That time was coming shortly.”

The Lewiston Police Department noted Burley’s death with “heavy hearts,” saying on its website that he had planned to put himself through the Police Academy in hopes of becoming an officer. “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 popular at Lew-Port. Casseri said Burley was involved in athletics and Junior ROTC, the law enforcement Explorers and the volunteer fire department, and was training to be a paramedic.

Casseri cited Burley’s dedication as a firefighter and his poignant notation in the yearbook: “Firemen never die. They live on the lives of the ones they saved.”

Surviving are his mother, Kathleen A. Forti; his father, Timothy A. Burley; two brothers, Brian M. Forti and Samuel Forti; and three sisters, Kristina E. Burley, Patricia Burley and Sara Hendrick.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 620 Center St., Lewiston.