RALEIGH – In its 20th year, the “Tree of Life” was lit Friday evening on the grounds of the State Capitol in honor of the memory of the 1,442 lives lost on North Carolina roadways in 2016.
Governor Roy Cooper, Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Greer Beaty, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.), and state and local law enforcement agencies joined loved ones of the victims to honor those who lost their lives and to bring awareness to the importance of safe driving.
“You have the power to protect yourself, your loved ones, and everyone on the road during the holidays and all year long by driving safely,” Governor Cooper said. ““As we approach the holiday season, I urge every North Carolinian to make a plan to travel safely—and to make that plan before they consume alcohol,” said Governor Cooper.
The tree is illuminated with 403 red lights and ribbons memorializing the victims of alcohol-related crashes, 1,038 white lights and ribbons commemorating the lives lost in all other vehicle crashes, and one blue light and ribbon recognizing the law enforcement officer who lost his life in a crash. Following the tree lighting, M.A.D.D. held a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died as the result of a drunk driver.
“We all envision the day when the ‘Tree of Life’ has no lights, because we have reached our goal of zero fatalities on roadways,” said Mark Ezzell, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “We will encourage others to make good choices on our state’s roads and honor those who lost their lives on our roadways until we reach our vision of zero fatalities.”
Joining the ceremony were parents who tragically lost children in crashes. Alexandria Williams of Wilmington spoke on behalf of her 2-year-old son, Mason, who died due to an impaired driver. Chris Pierce of Knightdale expressed the importance of safe driving habits while speaking about his son, Cody, who was killed while driving distracted.
Forsyth County Sheriff Schatzman spoke to honor Deputy John Isenhour, who was killed in a crash in Clemmons in September 2016.
There have been 1,212 fatalities so far this year on North Carolina roadways, which is a slight decrease from the 1,291 deaths that occurred during the same period in 2016. Alcohol-related deaths are down 22 percent, with 284 fatalities this year compared to 364 at the same time last year.
The “Tree of Life” will remain on display at the State Capitol through Jan. 5, 2018.