Raleigh - The annual "Tree of Life" illuminated Friday evening on the grounds of the State Capitol in memory of the 1,277 lives lost on North Carolina highways last year.
The Governor's Highway Safety Program,Mothers Against Drunk Drivingand law enforcement agencies from across the state joined families and friends of the victims to honor the lives lost and bring awareness to the dangers of drunken driving.
"The annual Tree of Life ceremony is our time to honor the victims that lost their lives on North Carolina roads and to use the ceremony as an opportunity to help prevent similar tragedies from occurring," said GHSP Director Don Nail. "Our vision is zero fatalities in North Carolina, and we want to remind everyone who is about to travel for the holidays to stay safe, buckle up and don't drive impaired."
The "Tree of Life" was lit with 371 red lights memorializing the victims of alcohol-related crashes, 905 white lights commemorating the lives lost in all other vehicle crashes and one blue light recognizing the law enforcement officer who lost his life in a traffic crash in 2014. Following the tree lighting, MADD held a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died as the result of an impaired driver.
"I am happy to see that we have added a new color light to the tree this year to honor the law enforcement officer that we unfortunately lost due to a traffic crash," said Nail. "Law enforcement officers put themselves in harm's way to make sure people are safe on our roads, and this one blue light is to remind people to help protect those who protect us."
North Carolina MADD director, LaRonda Scott, joined Nail and Nicole Hutchinson will join Don Nail at the event. Nicole's sister, Darcie, was hit and killed by a repeat offender impaired driver.
So far in 2015, North Carolina has seen 1,219 fatalities on its roadways, which is a slight increase from the 1,186 deaths that occurred during the same time period in 2014. Alcohol-related deaths have decreased a bit, with 336 year-to-date fatalities compared to 357 at the same time last year.
The "Tree of Life" will remain on display at the State Capitol through Jan. 6, 2016.