RALEIGH – The North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program and North Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving hosted a candlelight vigil Friday night to honor people killed last year in North Carolina traffic crashes and remind everyone to be safe on the roads.
“This evening's event is a poignant reminder that traffic victims are people, not statistics," said GHSP Director Mark Ezzell. “Every traffic death tears families and communities apart forever, and we all must redouble our efforts to create a state where these preventable deaths are eliminated."
Dozens gathered on the State Capitol Grounds for the 26th annual tree lighting of the towering Fraser fir, which was donated by Henderson Farms in Avery County. The fir was decorated with 1,798 ornament bulbs to represent each life lost on North Carolina roads in 2022.
The candlelight ceremony featured several speakers, including N.C. Department of Public Safety Secretary Eddie Buffaloe Jr., N.C. Department of Transportation Chief Operating Officer Chris Peoples, Ezzell and N.C. MADD Director Jennifer Lichtneger. Crash victims Sherry McCall and Chad Goulet spoke about their experience after being involved in vehicle crashes in 2022. McCall's vehicle was struck by an impaired driver, and Goulet was involved in a crash involving a distracted driver.
Of the 1,798 people killed, 471 red bulbs on the tree represent the people killed by substance impaired drivers and served as a sad reminder of the sometimes-deadly consequences when people choose to drive while impaired.
“We will continue to be the voice for the more than 400 people who would still be with their loved ones this holiday season if these impaired drivers would have stayed off the road," MADD's Lichtneger said.
Three blue bulbs on the tree represent fallen law enforcement officers, and the 1,324 white bulbs signify all other traffic fatalities statewide.
The luminated tree will remain on the State Capitol Grounds throughout the holiday season.