DA Andrea Harrington speaks during the recorded vigil.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The community remembered the lives lost to drunken driving on Sunday in a virtual vigil over social media.
The Vigil of Remembrance has been held annually for more than 30 years, organized by the Berkshire District attorney's office in cooperation with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
This year's gathering, held apart because of the pandemic, was dedicated to the 53 people in Berkshire County who lost their lives because of impaired driving.
"Our community needs your voice as much now as ever as we grapple with a greater prevalence of alcohol and substance use and the dangers of operating under the influence," said District Attorney Andrea Harrington. "The District Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners honor the memories of your loved ones every day through our aggressive enforcement of the law because we know that deterrence prevents tragedies."
The vigil is aimed to provide families an opportunity to reflect and honor loved ones, spread awareness to deter others from driving under the influence, and reconfirm law enforcement's commitment to aggressively enforce the laws around impaired driving.
It is traditionally hosted in person but was made virtual this year because of the novel coronavirus. The vigil was recorded at First United Methodist Church.
"As with so much of our lives, the pandemic has created challenges," Harrington said. "But this tradition is important for families who take solace and peace in remembrance of ones that they loved so deeply."
During the program, Harrington read the names of county residents who lost their lives to drunk driving while State Police Det. Lt. Brian Berkel and Lt. Stephen Jones lit candles in their remembrance.
Members of the office's Youth Advisory Board Emma Kostun of Pittsfield High School and Benjamin Heim of Lenox High School read poetry. Motor vehicle homicide victim advocate John Giracca also spoke, and the Grace Notes from Miss Hall's School performed "A Hanukkah Celebration" and "O! Holy Night."
Giracca read a statement from Joyce Wrend of North Adams, one of the founding members of the MADD program in Berkshire County. Her daughter Alison, who was just 18, was the passenger of an impaired driver when she was killed in 1990.
"Don't believe that time will heal all wounds because it doesn't," Giracca read. "What time does is provide the space to become somewhat accustomed to your new normal life without your beloved family member."
In her poem titled "Imagine," Kostun spoke about her hope for a world without drunk driving.
"I can imagine a world that isn't affected by drunk driving, a world with no more victims," She said. "This is the tomorrow that we all can imagine."
Heim recited a poem called "Love Lives On" by Amanda Bradley.
"Those we love are never really lost to us, we feel them in so many special ways," he read. "Through friends they always cared about, and dreams they left behind."
This year, the District Attorney's Office received a $166,254 grant from the state Office of Victim Assistant to assign a victim witness advocate to specialize in motor-vehicle homicide cases. This advocate specifically understands the unique trauma that families and loved ones experience in these cases, helping them navigate the court process and connecting them with community services.
The grant also allocates funding for the travel and accommodations for families who wish to exercise their rights in attending court dates where they are not required to testify.
Harrington thanked her team for their hard work in organizing this event. She said it would not have been possible without the dedication of the Director of Community Outreach Bryan House and her Executive Assistant Susan Deeley.
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