Tuesday, 10 December 2019 14:18

‘Tree of Life’ remembering 1,445 souls on display at Capitol grounds

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‘Tree of Life’ remembering 1,445 souls on display at Capitol grounds NCDOT

RALEIGH — The "Tree of Life" is on display in downtown Raleigh at the State Capitol grounds (Wilmington Street side) in memory of 1,445 individuals who died in a crash on North Carolina roadways over the 2018 calendar year.

The annual "Tree of Life" candlelight vigil and tree lighting service brought hundreds to the State Capitol grounds for a ceremony on Friday, Dec. 6, to remember those lives.

“Standing here in front of this crowd of heavy hearts is sobering,” said First Lady Kristin Cooper the event’s keynote speaker.

“To the families of those left in the wake of these crashes, brave enough to stand and be a voice for your loved one, I promise, we are fighting for you! We are fighting to get impaired drivers off the roadways. We are fighting to educate drivers on the dangers of speeding. We are fighting to train young drivers and retrain mature drivers of evolving roadway rules. We hope that our time spent with you not only comforts those hurting but galvanizes those that have the power to shift cultural change in our state,” Cooper concluded.

Select family members whose loves ones were killed in crashes: Deanna Rowland, grandmother of Durrell Avila (deceased) and Laverne Baxter mother of Love Ingram (deceased) both gave moving speeches at the ceremony to help encourage safe driving.

Staff from the N.C. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program organize the annual program and adorn the Christmas tree, known as the "Tree of Life," with decorations representing each life lost.

The tree is illuminated with lights and decorated with 1,445 Christmas bulbs, each representing a person killed on a North Carolina road in 2018. There are:

  • 7 blue bulbs honoring fallen law enforcement officers;
  • 422 red bulbs for people who died in alcohol-related crashes; and 
  • 1,016 white bulbs for all the other traffic fatalities

Impaired driving is the leading cause of preventable roadway deaths.

So far this year, alcohol-related fatalities are down almost 30 percent, according to NCDOT’s twice-weekly report of traffic deaths.

“Despite this decrease, we have had 277 deaths involving alcohol this year, and that number will likely increase before the end of the year,” said Mark Ezzell, director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. “Our vision in North Carolina is to have zero traffic safety deaths. This memorial is a reminder that, collectively, we have much more to do.” 

Jennifer Lichtneger, the director of N.C. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, spoke to the crowd about their efforts to encourage personal responsibility.

“Each and every driver has the power to protect themselves and those around us by practicing safe driving, buckling up, not drinking and driving, and not driving distracted,” Lichtneger said.

NCGHSP asks that you support traffic safety efforts by visiting ncghsp.org and following @NCGHSP on Facebook and @NC_GHSP on Twitter and Instagram today.

The "Tree of Life" will be on display until Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.