Survivors of people who were killed by drunk drivers gathered at the Cape Girardeau Police Department Thursday night in an annual candlelight vigil sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving since 1992.
"It brings us together in sadness and in friendship," said Sharee Galnore, coordinator for the city's Safe Communities Program. "We remember our loved ones and it give us an opportunity to be together."
Following the candlelight ceremony, mothers, fathers and friends hung ornaments on the tree in the lobby of the police department. The white snowflake ornaments bear the names of loved ones along with the dates of their birth and death. Police chief Steve Strong said that the ceremony allows people to remember those who were killed and serves as a reminder of the need to not drive after drinking.
Strong said the yearly vigil is a poignant occasion for the police department. Some members of his department have either been injured by a drunk driver or lost a family member to one.
"My father was crippled by a drunk driver," he said.
In Cape Girardeau last year, there were 64 alcohol-related accidents and 270 people were arrested for DWI. So far this year, three of the four people killed in the city in traffic accidents were in alcohol-related wrecks.
"One was especially sad because it involved an underage intoxicated driver killed in a single-car accident that would not have taken place had she been sober," Strong said.
Across the state last year, 23 percent of car crashes were alcohol related, resulting in 277 deaths and 5,455 people being injured.
"Last year in Missouri one person was killed or injured in an alcohol-related accident every hour and a half," Strong said.
Strong told the families of the 28 victims who came Thursday night that the police department is working with grants that enable the city to put officers on the street on weekends to focus on catching drunk drivers. There is also continued funding, he said, to keep sobriety checkpoints going.
"We're six months into a three-year grant to address underage drinking, underage possession and the sale of alcohol to kids," Strong said.
It's an uphill battle, the chief said, but numbers show that police are making some progress.
Even though 2003 marked a seven-year high in the number of alcohol-related accidents in the city, Strong noted that the numbers were lower than they were 20 years ago when the city was smaller both in geographical area and population.
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