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Tree of Life honors DWI victims, law enforcement tonight at Battleship

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Drunk drivers continue to take innocent lives. That’s why the Tree of Life and Candlelight Vigil is held annually. It’s a moment to remember the victims and to pay tribute to law enforcement officers.

“It’s that phone call you don’t want. It’s that two trooper cars pulling into your yard and you know your life is going to change,” Kim Heath said.

Heath speaks from experience. Her life changed dramatically in spring 2010. That’s when her daughter Stephanie was killed in a car accident. The other driver, Richard Constantineau, is in jail charged with DWI and felony death by vehicle.

It’s news families don’t want to hear and troopers don’t want to deliver.

“I think the troopers need support as well and the officers, because they know that what they’re going to say is going to change lives,” Heath said.

That’s why a Tree of Life Ceremony and Candlelight Vigil is held every year at the Battleship North Carolina. It’s a chance for families who lost loved ones because of impaired drivers, to get together. Each light on the tree of life represents a person who died in car accidents.

“It’s very important,” New Hanover Co. Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jerry Brewer said. “It really brings it to light how it’s families that are every day affected by drunk drivers.”

In North Carolina last year, more than 9,000 people were charged with DWI. Four-hundred thirty-seven people died in alcohol related accidents, including 11 in Brunswick and New Hanover Counties.

The ceremony is also a way to thank law enforcement officers who work to get those drivers off the road.

“The troopers, deputies and court system that work so hard to protect us deserve to be honored and mentioned,” Heath said, “because in their work they protect other families from the tragedy that our family has endured.”

A tragedy that could be prevented.

Constantineau, the man charged with Stephanie Heath’s death, had his bond increased $10,000 this week after investigators say he was found with a weapon in jail.

Kim Heath is the keynote speaker at the Tree of Life and Candlelight Vigil. It’s tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in the Battleship Auditorium. The public is invited.

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