30th annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope offers chance to heal, prevent more hurt

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PITTSFIELD — Every time Joann Froio passes Bill Laston Memorial Park on North Main Street in Lanesborough, she's reminded of all the good her son did before a drunken driver ended his life at 23 years old.

A role model in the community who loved the outdoors and sports, Laston died in July 2002, and 15 years later his family continues to focus on his short time on Earth.

"It's about his life, not about how his life ended," Froio said Sunday afternoon after lighting a candle in her son's memory.

The Lanesborough woman joined dozens more family and friends gathered at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church for the 30th annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope.

The yearly memorial to Berkshire residents who died at the hands of an intoxicated motorist grew to 52 this year with the death of Arthur Meyrick. The 74-year-old Pittsfield man was struck by a drunken driver a year ago this Friday while walking along West Housatonic Street near Clapp Park in Pittsfield. He succumbed to severe injuries in late January and the driver, Devyn Bannister, was sentenced in October to serve a prison term of 3 1/2 to 7 years.

And before Meyrick was fatally struck, Garrett Norton was also added to the remembrance list as the first new name in more than a decade.

The vigil organized by the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, began in 1988 to call attention to the deadly consequences of drinking alcohol and getting behind the wheel.

"We're gathered here as families remembering loved ones lost, and also here as a community to prevent another tragedy," said DA David Capeless.

As Capeless read each victim's name, friends and/or relatives of the deceased approached the array of candles in front of the church altar, lighting them in silence. If no one came forward, either Massachusetts State Police Lt. Brian Berkel or Trooper Jean Thibodeau did the honors.

Capeless lit the final candle on behalf of Joyce Wrend, the mother of Alison Wrend, of North Adams, who was killed in 1990.

For years, the two troopers have taken part in the ceremony, which hits close to home for Thibodeau, as she lit a candle for her brother Richard Soucy.

"This is a special way for me to stay involved and special for my family," she told an Eagle reporter.

Since the formation of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers in 1980 and states cracking down on motorists under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, the number of drunken driving deaths has dropped drastically in Massachusetts, but leveled off over the past decade.

In 1982, Massachusetts had 659 traffic fatalities, out of which 407, or 62 percent, involved alcohol. By 2007, total traffic fatalities dropped to 417 and only 146 of those deaths, or 35 percent, were alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Since then, the yearly average has been 145, or 40 percent of all traffic deaths in the commonwealth through 2016.

During the candlelight vigil, local youth honored the drunken driving victims in music and verse. Allison Zoito played the flute and The Grace Notes from Miss Hall's School sang "May the Road Rise Up," "Hanukkah Celebration" and "O Holy Night."

The somber, poignant service included Pittsfield High School student Hannah Berkel, daughter of Brian Berkel, reading from a bereavement poem titled, "If I am Called Before You."

The poem emphasizes living over mourning.

I know that you will miss me

And that there will be tears shed

But please remember good I've done

And how my life was led.

Reach Dick Lindsay at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233


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