PITTSFIELD — One had been heading to a party. Another to a friend's house. When they died, they had something in common — they were killed by a drunk driver.
"The pain hits you when you least expect it," said Joyce Wrend, 84, who lost her 18-year-old daughter, Allison Wrend, a passenger in a car driven by a man who was drunk. Wrend said she had burst into tears at a restaurant years later because "it was Halloween, and Halloween was her favorite holiday."
Alison Wrend was one of 53 victims of drunken drivers honored Sunday at St. Stephen's Church in the 32nd annual Vigil of Remembrance held by the Berkshire District Attorney's Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"Our office is here to celebrate and support you," DA Andrea Harrington told around 60 people. She said that families traveled far and wide to attend and light candles for those they lost, with help from Massachusetts State Police Detective Lt. Brian Berkel and Lt. Stephen Jones. The vigil included singers from the Grace Notes A capella group from The Miss Hall's School.
As drunken driving continues to be a leading cause of fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., the DA's office said the vigil is also a way to remember this — every 48 minutes, someone will die in a drunken-driving crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Then there are the stories of heartbreak.
For Wrend, the former Berkshire County coordinator for MADD, she transmuted her grief by jumping into the front line to help other families.
"I just tell them I know what it feels like," she said after the vigil. "It's a shame that we have to join this club and we have to do the best we can to help. It was a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it."
Hollie Steinman was five when her brother, Scott Steinman — the oldest of eight children — was killed in a crash on Crane Avenue in 1985. She said the annual vigil is instrumental in getting the family through the loss of a young man whose legacy lived on in this Pittsfield family as a love of playing basketball.
"The holidays are always tough," she said.
Wrend, speaking of the man convicted in her daughter's death, said she understands that he didn't mean to hurt her daughter. He was young and "wasn't a drunkard." For habitual drunk drivers, she said she has no sympathy.
Harrington, noting that the law increases penalties for every subsequent offense, said it is widely known that her office will "aggressively enforce OUI laws," and that studies show deterrence works.
But Harrington says she's now also worried about drivers operating while under the influence of marijuana and other drugs, and the lack of "good mechanisms" for quick drug testing that is comparable to the speed of a Breathalyzer, for instance.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.