RALEIGH -An evergreen tree adorned with 1,271 bright lights now stands on the State Capitol grounds in Raleigh to honor each person killed in a crash last year on North Carolina roads. Family and friends of the victims gathered tonight with representatives from the N.C. Department of Transportation, the Governor's Highway Safety Program and Mothers Against Drunk Driving to light this "Tree of Life" during a special ceremony.
Although the majority of the 1,271 lights are white, the 442 red lights on the tree represent those killed in alcohol-related crashes. Following the tree lighting, the group held a candlelight vigil in memory of the lives lost as a result of an impaired driver.
"While the lights on the Tree of Life' are beautiful, they are each a reminder of the tragic consequences of behaviors like drinking and driving, failing to buckle up and driving distracted, as well as the important role each of us plays in keeping our highways safe," said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. "As we enter the busy holiday travel season, I urge everyone who gets behind the wheel to make smart decisions to protect not only themselves, but everyone on our roadways."
Secretary Tata spoke at the ceremony and was joined by NCDOT Deputy Secretary LaNica Allison, GHSP Director Don Nail, NC MADD Director LaRonda Scott and David Britt. Britt's 33-year-old son Ashley was killed on April 13, 2012, by an impaired driver.
So far this year, North Carolina has seen 1,103 fatalities on its roadways, a slight increase from the 1,099 deaths that occurred during the same time period in 2012. However, the state has experienced a significant decrease in alcohol-related fatalities. Deaths as a result of an impaired driver are down 32.2 percent. At this point in 2012, there were 376 fatalities, and currently in 2013, there have been 281.
"I look forward to the day when the Tree of Life' has no lights, because all motorists have reached their destinations safely," said Don Nail, director of GHSP. "Until we reach that point, we'll continue to honor the lives lost on our roadways in hopes that their stories will encourage others to make good choices on our state's roads."
GHSP reminds motorists that they should never take a holiday from safe driving. Last December, North Carolina experienced 101 traffic fatalities -39 of those were a result of an impaired driver.
The "Tree of Life" will remain on display at the State Capitol through Jan. 3, 2014.
(Editor's note:Photosfrom the "Tree of Life"are attached to this news release.)