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People killed by DUI drivers remembered during ceremony in Somerset Co.
For several years in a row, Somerset County has lead the state in the highest blood-alcohol content among DUI drivers at .21 percent,said Brooke McKenzie of the Somerset County Drug Free Communities. That's nearly three times the legal limit of .08 percent and and significantly higher than the state average of .17 percent.
Authorities said they made at least 240 DUI arrests in Somerset County from last fall through this October, with 31 percent being arrested after a crash. Statewide, they said, more than 400 people were killed by impaired drivers. That was the focus of a ceremony held in Somerset County Tuesday.
"They're going to be out there and there is zero tolerance at this time of the year," said Cathy Tress, law enforcement liaison with the Pennsylvania DUI Association.
The association kicked off its annual holiday tour in Somerset County Tuesday, bringing its DUI Victims Moving Memorial, a replica of a permanent garden in Harrisburg that lists the names of more than 3,000 people killed by impaired drivers since 2003.
"Those are real people, not just numbers," said Tress. "The big message is, make your arrangements in advance, before you go to your holiday celebrations and begin to consume alcohol, because once you've reached that impairment level, your judgement is impaired right along with it."
On Tuesday, friends and family of those killed by impaired drivers were encouraged to place angel ornaments on a tree in remembrance, including the family of Elizabeth Faulkner.
"Oh my, she was a little angel and not just because she's not here anymore," said Kathleen Fisher, Faulkner's grandmother. "She made our life."
"She was too fabulous of a person to not let people know who she is," said Faulkner's aunt Jodi Kreger.
Faulkner was born and raised in Somerset County. She was 18 when she was hit and killed by a drunken driver while away at school in 2006. Kreger now uses her tragedy to inform high school students and first time DUI offenders.
"Some get it and I don't ever expect to ever see them back in those classes, but there's always a couple you can tell they don't realize it," said Kreger. "They feel it's their life, it's their choice. It is your choice but consequences come with those choices and that could mean taking somebody's life."
With the holiday season underway, state and local police warn drivers they'll be watching. But the family of those whose lives were taken too soon, have their own message.
"Please don't make your family go through what we've gone through," said Fisher. "It hurts and it keeps on hurting. It never gets easier."