Students lead effort to stop drunk driving

RUTLAND - The Health Careers Academy and the Public Safety Services Program at Stafford Technical Center hosted the annual Red Ribbon Tree last week. The Red Ribbon Tree honors victims of drunk or drugged driving accidents by attaching red ribbons bearing the names of the victims on a large holiday tree.

Each organization or public figure who wishes to show their commitment in dealing with this serious issue can do so by attaching a silver ball ornament with the organization's name on the tree.

The community partners involved yearly come together to "kick off" the Red Ribbon Tree at a ceremony that involves an opportunity to remember victims and to rededicate ourselves to dealing with this serious problem.

This year, a number of victims of drunk or drugged driving crashes, like Andrea Varney of Proctor, addressed the group and told how a crash had changed their lives or the lives of their friends or family members.

Also present were representatives of the Vermont State Police, the Rutland County Sheriff's Department, Rutland City Police, Regional Ambulance Service, Rutland Area Prevention Coalition, state SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) advisors, and SADD members from Proctor High School.

Representative McNeil, who represents Rutland Town in the Vermont Legislature, and Diamond Run Mall Manager Jay Morel both spoke at the event about how and why they would be assisting in the campaign against drunk driving. Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard, who was representing Rutland County START (Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Team) as well as his department, shared some of his experiences involving substance-related crashes over his extensive law enforcement career.

The Red Ribbon Tree ceremony took place in the Diamond Run Mall in Rutland to raise awareness of the impact drunk driving has on people killed in crashes and those they leave behind. The Red Ribbon Tree will remain in the Diamond Run Mall, perhaps up to February, depending on the state of the tree. The tree was donated by the Stafford Technical Center forestry program.

Cody Hesse is a senior at Otter Valley Union High School who is presently a member of the Stafford Technical Center Public Safety Services Program.

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