Beloved Burlington firefighter killed, another injured in wreck

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BURLINGTON, N.C. – Michael Perry was known by many as a man dedicated to service, and someone always willing to help those in need.

But Sunday night, the 24-year-old Burlington firefighter passed away in a single-car crash on McCray Road in Alamance County.

"Being a smaller department, you get to know the personnel professionally and personally," said Michael Willets, Deputy Chief of the Burlington Fire Department. "Firefighter Perry -- positive energy every day. That's how I'd describe him."

State Troopers said Perry was driving his 1968 Chevy east on McCray Road when he veered off the road, struck a tree, then a fence and finally a parked trailer from a tractor-trailer. They said speeding was a factor.

Perry died from the accident, and his passenger, 21-year-old Scott Lassiter, who is also an off-duty firefighter, is still in the hospital with serious injuries.

Willets said Perry was a standout firefighter with a joyful personality and a bright future in the profession. He said that was evident from the first time the two met.

"I got to sit in on Firefighter Perry's interview," he said. "What stood out was his willingness to serve and help others around him. And sometimes that may be the canned answer -- the canned response you get during interviews. But with Michael we know it was real."

Flags flew at half-staff at Burlington city buildings Monday, mourning his death. Willets said, as far as he can remember, Perry is the first active duty firefighter to die in Burlington.

"We're hurting right now as a fire department. Everybody from the Fire Chief to the trainees. We're a big family. So right now, we're all hurting."

Willets said grief counselors will be available tomorrow to speak with Perry's fellow firemen.