BUFFALO, NY - A New York State Trooper died Wednesday after falling into the gorge at Letchworth State Park during a training exercise.
State Police in Warsaw identified him as Ross Riley, 44. Riley was part of a special operations response team.
"Today, I'm saddened to announce the tragic death of Trooper Ross M. Riley assigned to the New York State Command Emergency Management Section," said New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico.
Trooper Riley was with nine or ten of his team members doing high angle rescue training at Letchworth State Park when the accident happened.
"They're the cops that the cops call when they need help," said D'Amico.
The State Police Superintendent says Trooper Riley was about 70 feet down the side of a cliff on a ledge overlooking Wolf Creek to simulate the rescue of a life-size training dummy.
"They had placed the training dummy in a stretcher and were getting ready to hoist the stretcher to the top of the cliff, and just then, Trooper Riley apparently fell backwards from the ledge where he was standing. He fell a distance of about 30 feet into Wolf Creek," he says.
Trooper Riley received critical head injuries and would not survive.
State Police say at the time of the fall, it appears Riley was not tethered, and that generally during this type of training, team members would be secured.
"At this time, we don't really know what caused the trooper to fall. Obviously, we'll be looking at all aspects of it and ultimately we'll determine what occurred," says D'Amico.
Riley became a member of the SORT team in 2000. We spoke with him in 2007 when it was known as the Mobile Response Team.
"It's very rewarding. It can be trying at times. It's tough on the family. The married guys, they have a tough go at it because as soon as you have plans to go do something, that's when we'll get a call out," said Riley.
Riley told us that what kept him going and kept him on the team were his fellow State Troopers.
"It's like a brotherhood, it's like a family. I grew up, I never had brothers, but now I have nine of them on this team," he said.
Riley also received commendation for his service after 9/11 at the World Trade Center site and served in the Marines during the Persian Gulf War after which he was awarded with several medals.
His commanding officer calls him the kind of guy you rely on when you need somebody.
"In addition to being an outstanding Trooper and an outstanding tactical team member, just an outstanding man, his presence will be greatly missed by the SORT team members, Emergency Management and the New York State Police as a whole," said Major Christopher Fiore.
"SORT was his passion, right?" asked D'Amico.
"Absolutely," said Fiore.
Riley leaves behind his wife, New York State Police Station Commander Heidi Riley, and their three young daughters.
Funeral arrangements are still pending.