The death of longtime Lancaster Middle School science teacher Eric Przykuta stunned residents in the community, many of whom attended classes taught by Przykuta family members throughout the years.
Przykuta, 43, a seventh-grade science teacher for nearly two decades and president of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association, died in a boating accident over the weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard said. He was one of three men in a fishing boat that struck the breakwall late Saturday near the Small Boat Harbor. His body was recovered around 9 a.m. Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Przykuta, described by friends as an avid outdoorsman, was not wearing a life vest, according to the Coast Guard.
Two companions were rescued from the breakwall by Buffalo Fire Department responders. Authorities have not identified the men.
News of the fatality shocked the close-knit community as word spread about Przykuta, who was an outspoken leader of the Lancaster Central Teachers Association.
"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. "He was known throughout the district, not just at the middle school. His family has been embedded in the district for decades."
Przykuta was president of the teachers association for the last 10 years, said Michael J. Vallely, superintendent of the Lancaster Central School District, in a written statement. Przykuta also coached boys modified lacrosse and was given the Leadership Award from New York State United Teachers.
"Eric and I had a great, great relationship that had a mutual foundation of respect and trust. I will miss him greatly," Vallely's statement continued.
"He was a highly respected teacher at Lancaster Middle School, regarded as an advocate for children, both in the classroom and on the athletic field," said Lancaster Middle School Principal Peter Kruszynski in the same statement. "As president of the LCTA, and on a personal level, he was respected by peers and administrators alike."
Mr. Przykuta's science class experimenting with walking on water pic.twitter.com/d7FqOyt0gp
— Peter Kruszynski (@kruszyn15) November 26, 2014
Grief counselors and other emotional support staff will be on hand in the schools on Monday, Vallely said.
Przykuta is survived by his wife, Lori, and children Landyn and Emersyn; his parents, Dennis and Diana; and his brother, Aaron.
Aaron Przykuta is also a teacher at Lancaster Middle School. Dennis Przykuta is a retired Lancaster physical education teacher.
A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in the Lancaster High School auditorium. Arrangements are being made for wake services at Wendel and Loecher Funeral Home on Aurora Street in Lancaster.
The LCTA also will be making arrangements to honor Pryzkuta.
"Eric always put others before himself," said LCTA Vice President Donald Kirsch in a written statement. "He was the first to show up for anyone in need. His passion for the teachers and students of Lancaster was unmatched. He was a true friend, and we will miss him."
The overnight search after the accident included helicopters from Detroit and Traverse City, Mich. Buffalo Police, Buffalo Fire, Hamburg Marine One and the Erie County Sheriff's Office also assisted.