RALEIGH – A permanent ‘Tree of Life’ has been planted on the State Capitol Grounds in downtown Raleigh, memorializing forever all victims of roadway crashes across the state.
The historic move made was possible by the joint efforts of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Department of Insurance, MADDNC and hundreds of law enforcement, first responders and volunteers. The tree immortalizes the annual tradition, now in it's 23rd year; and the commitment to the multi-agency work being done to eliminate roadway deaths.
During an online ceremony on Friday, Dec. 4, Governor Roy Cooper honored crash victims while reaffirming his commitment to making a better and safer North Carolina.
“Our first duties as leaders, is to keep North Carolinians safe; whether it be from a pandemic, a hurricane, or dangers on the highway,” said Governor Cooper.
“Roadway crashes take an emotional and physical toll on families, friends, colleagues, communities and first responders, and it hurts our economy,” Governor Cooper shared.
The commitment from state leadership came with a challenge to the public to help leaders take up the cause of roadway safety.
NCDOT Secretary Eric Boyette said during the service, “As we remember those who we’ve lost, we plead with drivers around our state to make safe decisions behind the wheel. No distractions. No cell phones. No pills, smoking, alcohol or other impairing substances while driving."
The ceremony included both the planting of a permanent tree and a virtual candle-lighting spearheaded by MADDNC.
MADD National President Helen Witty, whose own daughter’s life was taken due to the actions of another behind the wheel, was among the speakers.
Speaking of her family’s loss, Whitty said, “Helen Marie was coming home and saw the car spinning toward her and there as was nothing she could do but die. We were shattered and we had to learn to live again and thank heavens MADD was there to show me that I would not die of my grief and that I could survive and that I could have a life of joy. And so, this night is one where we are together, this is your safe space.”
Jennifer Litchneger, director of MADD NC said, “Sadly, 1,470 people died on our roadways in 2019; 348 of those were lost because of the 100% preventable crime of driving while impaired. Each year DWI fatalities account for approximately one-third of all motor vehicle deaths on our roadways.”
“Tonight we recognize the profound sense of loss with the lighting of these candles before us,” said MADDNC Program Specialist Lori Brown; as the group lit four candles representing the grief, courage, memory and love reserved for the fallen.
“Some of the fallen are law enforcement and first responders who tend North Carolina roadways daily,” said Guilford County Sheriff Danny H. Rogers.
“As we honor those lost, we also recommit to removing from our roadways those that would seek to compromise the right to peaceful and safe passage of law-abiding citizens,” Sheriff Rogers said.
N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Mark Ezzell, whose agency championed planting the permanent tree said, “We close out this year’s ‘Tree of Life’ ceremony with the unveiling of what we believe will be a beacon of hope, and a haven for many in the years to come.”
The tree, with a permanent plaque displayed, is being lit with a white beam representing all traffic crash victims, a red beam recognizing victims of impaired driving, and a blue beam in honor of law enforcement killed in traffic crashes.
The tree will remain lit until the end of the annual holiday 'Booze it & Lose It' campaign, ending Jan. 5, 2021.