By Timothy Chipp firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — When Mike Paul, a 25-year-old Falls resident, was killed in a motorcycle accident last year, a shocking public tribute opened the eyes of those closest to him.
They’ve decided to make good out of the tragic accident that claimed his life and have started a foundation in his name.
Matt Cole, Paul’s cousin, said the foundation is designed to honor both Paul’s devotion to justice and his addiction to hard work. It accomplishes its goal by awarding a scholarship to at least one criminal justice student at the school he’d been working through, Niagara County Community College.
“Mike was in the final steps to become a police officer when he was killed,” Cole said. He’d gone through the process again and again. He kept getting rejected, but he would never give up. and when he was going through everything, he was working two full-time jobs. We wanted the primary beneficiary of the foundation ... to be like him, a diamond-in-the-rough type of person who struggles for what he or she gets with a never-give-up attitude.”
The first major fundraiser to help the scholarship award was held this past Saturday, and Cole said the turnout was special. Though he wouldn’t put a dollar figure on the amount it raised, he said the event succeeded in reaching the goal.
But the roughly 200 people who stopped by the St. John de LaSalle parish on Buffalo Avenue a week ago paled in comparison to the support Paul received at his funeral just after he was killed while riding his motorcycle in June 2012 at the intersection of Niagara Falls Boulevard and 68th Street. He struck a vehicle, driven by then-21-year-old Shana Wallace, of Lockport, turning left in front of him and died as a result.
More than 3,000 people attended his funeral, a stunning number to those closest to him, like Cole, who couldn’t understand how a normal, everyday person could affect so many others around him so much there’d be lines forming outside and crowds forming in the parking lot. He said it was “mind-blowing” at the time.
“Mike wasn’t a famous politician, or athlete or celebrity,” Cole said. “He was a pizza delivery guy. But they showed up. It was amazing to see it all. He affected all their lives in some way.”
In recognizing Paul’s spirit and choosing to honor his memory, the eight members of the foundation quickly developed the scholarship. They wanted to capitalize on the community spirit Paul’s death created in their lives.
Funding the award will come down to roughly two or three events they’ll have every year, now that they know it can be successful. This year saw some locally famous people assisting, with Kiss 98.5 morning show co-host Nicholas Picholas serving as guest deejay and popular cover band That 80s Hair Band singing some of their favorite tracks. Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour even showed up, given the theme of the event and the purpose of the money, and helped with the event’s basket raffle.
All-in-all, Cole was satisfied with the foundation’s first event and is hopeful he and his fellow board members can continue to keep Paul’s spirit alive.
“He wasn’t a reckless or dangerous kid,” he said. “He’d been out all day and he was simply cut off in traffic. The type of person he was, he was always smiling. And anything you ever needed, this guy was there. You don’t see that in many 25-year-olds.”Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.