The Waldo County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the cause of a crash Friday night in Searsmont that killed George Studley, former longtime chief of the China Village Volunteer Fire Department.

Studley, 73, was assistant fire chief at the time of his death and had served for the department more than 50 years.

China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault said Sunday that the department of about 20 men and women is in shock over Studley’s death.

“He had a heart bigger than a basketball,” Theriault, also a state representative for House District 79, said. “He was just an amazing man. He was very quiet and led by example.”

A press release issued by the Waldo Sheriff’s Office said the fatal accident occurred at 8:10 p.m. Friday on U.S. Route 3, also known as Belfast-Augusta Road East.

“As a result of the investigation, it was learned that George Studley, 73, and a juvenile passenger were traveling eastbound in a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado,” the release says. “(The) Studley vehicle struck a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado head-on that was traveling west and being operated by Cory Chase, 45, of Searsmont and occupied by two juvenile passengers.”

Studley was declared dead at the scene, according to the release. Both vehicles had significant front-end damage, it says.

Chase and the three youths were taken to Waldo County General Hospital for their injuries, the release says.

Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Thompson, the primary investigator of the crash, was assisted by Corporal Greg Jones, Maine State Police, Searsmont Fire and Ambulance, Liberty Ambulance, Morrill Fire Department and Belmont Fire Department.

The China Village Volunteer Fire Department late Saturday posted news of Studley’s death on its Facebook page and word traveled quickly among firefighters all over central Maine.

“We ask that you pray for Chief Studley and his family now, as we grieve together through this difficult time,” the Facebook post says. “We, the members of the department he served for over 50 years, will honor his memory by continuing to uphold our solemn oath to serve the China community by saving lives and protecting property, remembering those that lay the path to our future. May you rest in peace, George. Know the love, respect and loyalty we have for you.”

Theriault said he knew Studley well, having served as assistant chief under him for 15 years before Theriault became chief in 2013 and Studley became assistant chief. Studley served as chief from 1977 to 2013, he said.

Studley grew up in Palermo on his family’s farm and graduated from Erskine Academy in 1963. He received a two year degree in building construction from Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute, now Southern Maine Community College, and worked for the Maine Department of Transportation helping to build the interstate from Bangor to Houlton, according to a bio from the fire department. He also worked for many years at Duratherm Window and Spiral Stair Company in Vassalboro, working his way up to becoming plant superintendent.

Studley joined the China Village Volunteer Fire Department in 1967. He was named assistant fire chief in 1975 and in 1977 was elected fire chief.

In 1965 he married Bonnie Bumps and joined the National Guard, and in 1966 moved to China after building a home there. He has two children, daughter Wendy and son Robbie, as well as several grandchildren.

Volunteer China Village firefighter Joe Labbe posted on his Facebook page that the community has lost “one of the true good guys.”

“Thank you for your service, your good nature, your wisdom and your guidance,” Labbe’s post says. “Boy are we gonna miss you, George. Rest now brother. We’ll take it from here.”

Theriault said friends and family of Studley are grieving for the profound loss, which follows the death last year of Studley’s best friend on the fire department, Sheldon Bumps.

“He just meant so much to so many people,” Theriault said of Studley.

He said a service for Studley is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, August 27, and fire officials hope to hold it at the conference center in China, though that location is not yet confirmed.

“We’re going to have a big, big, firemen’s funeral for him,” Theriault said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17