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Sean’s Run Brings Safety Tree to
Columbia and Greene Counties

March 13 - Sean’s Run is the impetus behind the creation of a new partnership of local organizations whose aim is to reduce the numbers of lives lost in Columbia and Greene Counties because of impaired and drunk driving.  Sean’s Run is joining forces with the Taconic Driving School, Remove Intoxicated Drivers—USA, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Columbia County Stop DWI and Twin County Recovery Services to establish the Columbia-Greene Safety Tree Living Billboard in Hudson.  The living billboard, a Blue Spruce evergreen, is now planted near the entrance of the Emergency Room of Columbia Memorial Hospital.
           
The eight-foot Safety Tree Living Billboard will be decorated with white lights as an anti-drunk driving project originally developed by RID-USA and has now been adopted by communities in 41 states.

The unveiling and inaugural lighting of The Safety Tree Living Billboard will be on Friday, April 1st at 5 PM.  This is one month prior to the 10th Annual Sean’s Run which is scheduled for Sunday, May 1st at Chatham High School.  Over 1,500 participants are anticipated in the 5K run/community walk and Meghan’s Mile youth race.

The white lights on The Safety Tree Living Billboard will remain lit every day of the year, signifying that no drunk driving fatalities have occurred in Columbia and Greene Counties since the Safety Tree was planted.  It is the sponsors’ hope that the tree remains lit solely by white lights for years to come.  However, if an unfortunate alcohol-involved traffic fatality does occur in the twin counties, one of the tree’s white lights will be replaced with a red light bulb to memorialize the individual whose life was lost.  This living, permanent billboard will remind the public that drinking and driving is still a major menace to life and health.  In years to come people can look at the tree and see how safe drivers have been in Columbia and Greene Counties.

Last fall the blue spruce was donated and planted by Callander’s Nursery of Chatham on the sloping lawn near the Emergency Room entrance of Columbia Memorial Hospital.  A special marker was designed and installed by Cantelle’s Memorials on a rock provided by A. Colarusso and Son and placed near the tree.  Carol Gould, the Vice-Chair of Sean’s Run, and her husband David Gould, purchased the lights for the tree.  The accounting firm of Pattison, Koskey, Howe, and Bucci, CPAS, PC will host the reception.  The public is invited.  Reservations can be made by contacting Phil Abitabile 828 1250 or phila50@yahoo.com.

In February 2008, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of RID-USA, Doris Aiken, founder and president of RID-US initiated the original Safety Tree Living Billboard.  In partnership with Ellis Hospital, the first-ever Safety Tree Living Billboard was planted on the grounds of Ellis Hospital on the corner of Nott Street and Rosa Road in Schenectady. 

RID began its efforts to deter drunk driving in February 1978 after the deaths of Karen (17) and Timothy (19) Morris of Scotia who were killed by a drunken driver on December 4, 1977.  Motivated by their deaths and with the help of many DWI victims’ families, RID changed the laws in 1980 so that drunken drivers could not be treated as subjects of merriment and allowed to plead to bald tires or parking on pavement, but as potential life-threatening risks on the road.  Aiken states that due to the law changes and the increased awareness level of effects of alcohol on driving, alcohol related crashes have decreased by 61%.

Sean’s Run began as a community’s response to the loss of life resulting from an underage drunk driving car crash and was first conceived by Chatham High School students.  A few minutes after midnight on January 1, 2002, Sean Patrick French and two other 17-year old passengers accepted a ride from their 17-year-old schoolmate.  The driver had been drinking.  A few minutes later the vehicle crashed; one occupant, Ian Moore was paralyzed and Sean French was killed.  The driver, it was later poignantly revealed, had also been arrested for drunk driving just 18 days before the deadly crash. 

This tragedy prompted Senator Steven Saland to sponsor the legislation that became known as Sean’s Law which allows for the immediate suspension of a minor’s drivers license following their DWI arrest.  The Senator’s bill passed unanimously in both the Senate and the Assembly.  Governor George E. Pataki signed the Bill into law during a public ceremony at Chatham High School on September 30, 2002.

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