The Grace Notes chorus sings during a vigil on Sunday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church to remember the victims of drunk driving.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In March 2002, Wahconah High School sophomore Lindsey Marie Ferrell,16, was killed instantly when the pickup truck she was riding in crashed in Hinsdale.
The 18-year-old driver pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Another teen was also killed.
More than a decade later, Ferrell's mother, Mary Ferrell, was taking part in a candlelight vigil at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in remembrance of her daughter and about 50 other community members who died as a result of drunken driving.
It helped Ferrell that she was not alone.
"I get to come and see people that have the same experience as me," she said. "It's kind of like a club that you don't really want to belong to."
The Vigil of Remembrance has been held annually for 26 years, organized by the Berkshire District attorney's office in cooperation with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Founded by then District Attorney Anthony J. Ruberto Jr., and continued by the late former Gerard D. Downing, the event was no less important to Sunday's main speaker than in the past quarter century.
"It's a difficult thing, but we are pleased that we can do it," District Attorney David Capeless said. “The families who come, they really do appreciate it.”
Midway through the ceremony, individual victims of drunken driving incidents were honored, their names and photographs projected on a screen at the front of the church.
Moments of silence were broken merely to name those people being honored. Slowly, the dimness of the church lit up with the glow of flickering candles sparked by family members and loved ones as Capeless announced each name. Those people for whom no one was present to light a candle were honored by state police Sgt. Brian Berkel and Trooper Jean Thibodeau.
This year, three additions were added to the list of drunken driving victims: Michael Ashline, Moira Banks-Dobson and Remy Kirshner.
Members of the district attorney's Youth Advisory Board read from the bereavement poem "Please Don't Mourn for Me." The youth board is comprised of Berkshire County students who volunteer to promote awareness among peers about social issues, drunken driving among them. Sunday's event, however, was a way to honor the greater community.
"We focus on making an impact to the youth in our community and this, today, we're kind of giving back. Instead of teaching people, we're giving back to them,” Pittsfield High School student Rachele Rosiello said. Joseph Liporace of Drury High School added, "... [T]hat includes honorary ones who aren't a member of the community anymore, who were lost."
Dmitri Pixley of Pittsfield High School was the other speaker from the Youth Advisory Board.
Miss Hall's School students in its Grace Notes choir sang throughout the vigil, including the Christmas carols "O Holy Night" and "Carol of the Bells" and the traditional Irish blessing "May the Road Rise Up."
A table displayed a memorial for local victims, with pictures of the deceased and a tree ornamented with lights and personalized snowflakes, along with ribbons and stickers for MADD.
According to Patricia Turner of the district attorney's office, much of the funding throughout the commonwealth for the MADD has dissipated in the last two decades, leading to a decrease in the number of remembrance events being held.
A reception with refreshments followed the ceremony, allowing families, like that of Ferrell's, to share their unfortunate connection.
"I get to see people that I only get to see maybe here, other mothers," Mary Ferrell said. "Maybe it's that we don't talk, but we have a little connection. I look forward to this every year."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving deaths increased in 2012 for the first time in six years by nearly 5 percent.