Victims of crashes in NC honored in Tree of Life lighting

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina car crash victims were honored Friday night with the lighting of the Tree of Life outside the Capitol. The Governor’s Highway Safety Program, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, families and friends held a candlelight vigil.

The tree has 1,658 lights on it, one for each crash victim in 2020. The 412 red bulbs represent victims in alcohol-related crashes. Two blue bulbs represent law enforcement officers who died in traffic crashes in 2020, Nash County Sheriff Deputy Jared Michael Allison and State Highway Patrol Trooper Nolan James Sanders.

Cathy Daniels’ son Corey Michael Godwin was killed by an impaired driver in 2017. Daniels shared the family’s story at the Tree of Life ceremony.

“It was very devastating, it’s something when you lose someone so young, who had so much potential, it revisits you every day,” Daniels said.

Daniels said her son was riding his motorcycle on a rural road in Harnett County when a driver who was impaired from prescription medication came across the lane and hit him head-on. Her son died instantly.

“We hear drink and drive, but even if you’re on medication, you know, read those bottles,” Daniels said. “It says it may impair you, and if that’s the case then don’t drive, don’t drive so another family doesn’t have to suffer.”

Deaths from impaired driving increased by 18.4% in 2020 from 2019, according to North Carolina Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 

Rebecca Parks and her two sons were hit by an impaired driver who ran a red light in April. Parks had multiple surgeries. The family was grateful to be at Friday evening’s event to share how the crash impacted them and raise awareness.

“We definitely are much slower going across intersections even when our light is green we kind of look both ways, but yeah, we don’t get in the car without thinking about the fact that it is more dangerous than you realize,” Parks said.

Alcohol was a factor in 20% of deadly crashes in 2020 (315 out of 1,549), according to state data.

Mark Ezzell, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director, said the state is cracking down on impaired driving with a greater presence of law enforcement officers. He said ignition interlock devices need to be used more.

“One of the things we have advanced this year is the use of ignition interlock devices,” Ezzell said. “They need to be required for every single person caught and convicted of impaired driving, We’re not there yet in North Carolina, but I think that can help.”

Governor Roy Cooper recently signed a law expanding the use of in-car breathalyzers, reducing the time people have to wait to get the device. Supporters believe it will cut down on people with DWI’s driving illegally.

The tree will be at the Capitol until Jan. 1.

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