Thousands of DUI victims memorialized in moving tribute
They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, wives and husbands.
The names on the wall represent senior citizens and unborn babies.
There are Shawns and Lisas, Margarets and Georges.
They come from different backgrounds and different places, but all have one thing in common: Someone who was drunk or high killed them on a Pennsylvania road.
Their 2,200 names grace a wall in the DUI Victims Moving Memorial, which was parked at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Wednesday — a reminder of the lives lost to impaired driving.
“These names are of people, of real people, real human beings who have families and friends, and it makes it all the more personal,” Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha said Wednesday during a press conference with officials from PennDOT, the state police and the Pennsylvania DUI Association at the memorial.
The officials wanted to send a message — and a warning — that police would be out in force to target aggressive and drunken driving this holiday season.
Operation Safe Holiday is a statewide initiative running from Thanksgiving to New Years involving state and local police in enforcing traffic and seat belt laws.
“Our goal is to make this holiday season a time for joy and not a time for sad reminders of loved ones needlessly lost,” said Jay Ofsanik, safety press officer for PennDOT District 12.
During last year's holiday season, there were 8,513 crashes and 92 people lost their lives in Pennsylvania, including three in Westmoreland and two in Washington County.
Trooper Stephen Limani of the state police Greensburg barracks said officers will be out in full force conducting DUI patrols and targeting aggressive drivers, as well as those not using seat belts.
“The seat belt is your first line of defense in a crash, and it's important you buckle up every time,” he said. “... Make sure nobody gets behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol.”
Bacha said his office has seen the results of accidents far too often in 2012. Through October, 34 people have died in traffic accidents in Westmoreland County this year — up from an all-time low of 26 last year, he said.
They spoke in front of the DUI Moving Memorial, which is housed in a 30-foot trailer and is a replica of the permanent DUI Victims Memorial Garden located at the Pennsylvania DUI Association's Harrisburg office.
A garden setting is painted inside the trailer, which features a wall of the names of DUI victims in Pennsylvania the association has gathered through family members, newspaper stories and word of mouth.
The names on the wall in the mobile memorial are engraved in bricks in the permanent garden.
The memorial will make a number of stops throughout the state this month to remind people of the dangers of impaired driving.
“When they see real names of real people, it brings it a little more to life and not just numbers,” said Cathy Tress, director of the western office of the DUI Association.
She said stopping at a college campus hopefully will get a strong message across to call for a ride if you've been drinking or to have a designated driver.
“Mom and Dad would much rather get a phone call at 2 or 3 in the morning than a knock on the door from a police officer,” Tress said.
Susan Isola, media relations director at UPG, said she knows all too well the dangers of impaired drivers. Isola was struck twice by a drunken driver. Luckily, she was not injured in either crash.
“When I go out, I don't drink. If I'm going to drink, I stay home,” she said. “It's a scary situation, and when it happens, it all happens in slow motion.”
She considers herself lucky her name is not on the wall.
“I could be there,” she said. “It makes you realize the seriousness of the situation.”
Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.