Raleigh, N.C. — A Christmas tree at the state Capitol isn't a festive sign of the holiday season but a somber reminder of tragedy.
The Governor's Highway Safety Program is presenting a "Tree of Life" on the lawn of the Capitol.
The tree was lit on Friday with 1,346 lights, representing the number of people who died in vehicle crashes on North Carolina roads in 2009.
Most of the lights are white, but 394 of them are red, for the number of fatalities linked to alcohol.
"One of those lights is a family member," said Beth Horner, of the Governor's Highway Safety Program.
During the ceremony, Kristin Knutson, of Raleigh, spoke about the August 2009 wreck that killed her friend, 28-year-old Eddie Ogburn. She was a passenger in Ogburn's vehicle when it was involved in a wreck with an impaired driver on Old Wake Forest Road in Raleigh in August 2009.
"All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there was a load bang," Knutson said.
Knutson said she tried to help Ogburn but he didn't respond. "I kept talking to him, telling him everything was going to be OK," she said.
"I felt like someone had ripped my heart out of my chest," Knutson said.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he has heard too many stories like Knutson's.
Police around the state will be conducting stepped up checkpoints and patrols starting Friday as part of the safety program's "Booze It and Lose It" campaign.
"We don't want to mess up anybody's party, but we don't want to mess up anybody's life either," Harrison said.
The tree will be on display through Jan. 3.
Another "Tree of Life" was lit on Friday in front of the Fayetteville Police Department.