52 names, 52 lights: Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope honors those lost to drunken driving
PITTSFIELD — The 52 names listed were lives tragically cut short; 52 sets of families and friends left behind; 52 reasons drunken driving can kill.
As Second Assistant District Attorney Robert Kinzer read each name during Sunday's Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope, a photograph of the deceased, if available, was shown on a screen and a candle lit in the person's memory.
When Charles "Chuck" Cleveland was called, Shirley Cleveland lit a candle for her son, killed in May, 1984. The 17-year-old was two weeks away from graduation at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton.
"Time hasn't meant a thing; feels like it happened yesterday," she told an Eagle reporter.
Cleveland joined dozens more family and friends gathered at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church to remember loved ones killed at the hands of an impaired driver.
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. Shirley Cleveland was a founding member of the local MADD chapter and instrumental in starting the vigil. Cleveland hadn't attended the vigil for several years, having lived in Florida before returning to the Berkshires.
The ceremony still nearly brings her to tears.
"The thing that struck me today was all the young people on the screen that never had a chance at life," she said.
The other friends and/or relatives of the deceased in attendance 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.
Kinzer lit the final candle on behalf of Joyce Wrend, the mother of Alison Wrend, of North Adams, who was killed in 1990.
"We're not just remembering loss, but the love and cheer they brought us," he said.
Darrell Burnett and Lindsey Ferrell are two of the 52 names that resonate with Kinzer. In 2003, he successfully prosecuted the drunk driver responsible for their deaths. On Kinzer's desk is a palm-size, gray figurine of two frogs, a thank you from Burnett's family.
"Frogs were something Darrell loved and fitting of his personality," he said afterwards.
Since the formation of MADD 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 2017.
Nationally, the NHTSA reports that last year, alcohol or drug impaired drivers accounted for 29 percent of the more than 10,000 traffic deaths.
During the candlelight vigil, local youth honored the drunken driving victims in music and verse. 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 Taconic High School senior Joannda Loftus reading from a bereavement poem titled, "I never left you."
The poem emphasizes the spirit of the departed loved one lives on.
Death won't keep us apart
For our love is forever
Just remember me in your heart
And one day we will be together
Live your life and live it full
Don't waste a single day
Remember I am always with you
Every step of the way
Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@ berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.
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