OLEAN - Hundreds of state police officers, under a sky as gray as their uniforms, lined up Tuesday for the funeral of a trooper who fell to his death during a training exercise last week.
Trooper Ross Riley, the 44-year-old father of three daughters, died Nov. 20 after falling from a ledge into a gorge at Letchworth State Park during high-angle rescue training, the kind that typically involves ropes and other equipment for rescues on cliffs and steep slopes.
Riley, a member of the elite Special Operations Response Team, was a 17-year veteran of the state police. He was on a six-person team that helped save an injured hunter near the bottom of a 500-foot-high rock face in Zoar Valley Gorge in 2010. His wife, Heidi Riley, is a state police station commander in the Southern Tier city of Olean.
State police Supt. Joseph D'Amico noted the honors that the former Marine had received from law enforcement and the military.
"He became a trooper to help people, and help he did," D'Amico said.
Before becoming a trooper, Riley was a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and paramedic, he said.
"Ross built his life around caring and taking care of others," D'Amico said.
Major Charles Guess, a longtime friend, described Riley's "contagious grin," sense of humor and mastery of impressions.
"He was an inspiration, plain and simple," Guess said after Riley's service began inside the Reilly Center at St. Bonaventure University.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had planned to attend the funeral in Olean, D'Amico said, but was turned back by an approaching winter storm.