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Sean’s Run Weekend 2017 Sponsors Announced

Sean's Run Announces Scholarships and Grants Winners

Dietz & Watson and Sean’s Run Offering Grants

New Presenting Sponsor for Sean’s Run Weekend

Voted Best Community Event-Spring 2016

Safety Tree lighting is a stark reminder


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Firefighters Invited to Sean’s Run

April 30, 2017 - Chatham, NY
After a trial run last year that was well received, the Sean’s Run Weekend Organizing Committee knew they had a hot idea - the Firefighter 5K Challenge could become a successful new feature beginning with the 16th edition of the event this April 30th. For a number of years Firefighters have been showing up to participate in the Sean’s Run 5K as a public display of their pride in protecting the public and their commitment to physical fitness.

Firefighter 5k Challenge

Now, Sean’s Run Weekend, voted the past two years as Best Community Event-Spring in Columbia County, is giving special attention to the brave men and women who protect our communities.

The Bank of Greene County has signed on as the sponsor of this “foot race within a foot race" because it closely aligns with the Bank’s interest to support firefighters. Now the Firefighter 5K Challenge is a permanent fixture of Sean’s Run Weekend which is staged at Chatham High School in the Village of Chatham.

In the Bank of Greene County’s Firefighter 5K Challenge, the members of the fire service distinguish themselves in a field of over 1,400 other runners and walkers by completing the Sean’s Run 5K while wearing bunker pants, fire company t-shirts and running shoes. The firefighters are easily recognizable as they traverse the picturesque 3.1 mile course that traverses the streets of historic Chatham. Some go the extra mile and wear turnout coats and helmets, and one firefighter ran while donning his air pack and mask.

Last year the fire companies from East Chatham, Chatham, Mellenville and Philmont entered teams. Led by their Chief Mark Beaumont, who the first firefighter to cross the finish line, Philmont Volunteer Fire Company No.1 won the trial Challenge.

When the Chief finished his 5K last year he told an event organizer, “Running and walking in the Sean’s Run 5K shows the public we are serious about being prepared to do whatever is needed in an emergency, plus getting ready has strengthen the bond among our members.”

“We run into burning buildings, so a 3.1-mile jog or walk in bunker pants is nothing to a firefighter; we had fun and will be back again next year.” said Lt. Gennea Klima of the Mellenville Fire Company when she finished the 5K in 2016.

To enter the Challenge, fire companies and departments register as many members as they want as individual participants in the Sean’s Run 5K. On the day of the event, after checking in at the Sean’s Run Packet Pick-up inside the Chatham High School gymnasium, fire companies report to the Firefighter 5K Challenge officials under the Bank of Greene County tent near the starting line to identify the names and bib numbers of their members.

Event officials will total the times of the first five firefighters from each company or department to cross the finish line. The team with the lowest combined time for their first five wins the title: Champions of the Bank of Greene County Firefighter 5K Challenge. Bragging rights, plaques and medals are awarded to the fastest fire companies and departments.

All Firefighters in the Challenge will receive a Sean’s Run souvenir t-shirt and enjoy all the amenities of Sean’s Run including a great spread of nutritional refreshments at the finish line festivities.

To sign up your fire company, go to www.SeansRun.com and for more information call Jeff French (518) 672-4757.

Sean’s Run Weekend includes the 5K with its Firefighter 5K Challenge, Meghan’s Mile youth race, Bike Rides, a Zumbathon, a run for people with special needs, a Prevention Education Expo. Moneys raised is used to fund scholarships and programs in schools that combat the pervasive problems of underage drinking, impaired driving and lax use of seat belts by teenagers.

The event was established in response to the tragic death of Sean Patrick French, the son of a volunteer firefighter and the 17-year old Chatham High School junior, honor roll student, community volunteer and record-setting athlete who was killed on January 1, 2002, as a passenger in an underage drunk-driving car crash. He was not wearing a seatbelt when he perished.

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Sean’s Run Weekend 2017 Sponsors Announced

January 10, 2017 – Dietz & Watson, one of the largest preparers of premium deli meats and artisan cheeses offered at the finest supermarkets, including Price Chopper/Market 32, and neighborhood delis throughout the United States, has signed on to be the Presenting Sponsor of Sean’ s Run and all of its associated year-round activities including Sean’s Run Weekend in 2017.  The 16th Annual Sean Run Weekend Presented by Dietz and Watson is scheduled for April 29 and 30, 2017 in Chatham.

While a new Presenting Sponsor is supporting the event, the mission of Sean’s Run remains unchanged: To produce a well organized and highly regarded community event as a platform to increase awareness about the problems and solutions of underage drinking and impaired driving and the lax use of seat belts by teens.

The 16th edition of the annual weekend-long event, April 29 and 30, is expected to attract over 1,800 participants and hundreds of spectators from across the region.

Dietz & Watson is joined by a group of 62 other businesses and individuals that are sponsoring Sean’s Run Weekend, one of the largest multi-sports events in the region, with the number of participants quadrupling since its beginning in 2002.

The sponsorships are used by the Sean’s Run Organizing Committee to help underwrite the costs of grants that Sean’s Run presents to schools and youth serving groups across the region to implement programs that combat underage drinking, impaired driving and lax use of seatbelts by teenagers.  The event’s namesake, Sean Patrick French, was killed as a passenger in an underage drunk driving car crash on January 1, 2002.  Another passenger suffered paralyzing injuries; both he and Sean we not using seatbelts at the time of the crash.

The balance of the event’s proceeds support the Sean’s Run scholarship fund.  More than 100 deserving seniors from across the region, selected because of their community service, compassion for others and positive sportsmanship, have benefitted since 2002.

In its 15-year history, Sean’s Run has awarded $208,640 in grants and scholarships.

The line-up of other sponsors include Columbia-Greene Media, designated as the 2017 Sean’s Run Weekend Media Sponsor. 

Coon Self Storage has signed on to be the named sponsor of the 5K, which continues as the flagship activity for the weekend.  Sunday also includes Meghan’s Mile youth race.

Rensselaer Honda is sponsoring the World Championship Battle of the Belts, the interscholastic competition designed to encourage increased use of seatbelts by teenagers. 

Bank of Greene County, will sponsor a new event on Sunday, the Firefighter 5K Challenge.  This is a race-within-a-race comprised of teams of firefighters competing to see which can get five members across the finish line with the lowest combined time.

Northeast Pest Control sponsors Gator’s Gifts, named after their highly trained bedbug-finding beagle, which are special premiums for the first 350 participants at the 5K packet pick up on Saturday.

Fuccillo Automotive Group sponsors the signature Sean’s Run after-run celebration and festivities with food and music.

Twin County Recovery Services, Inc. is hosting the Prevention Education Expo to provide teens and families with information from a variety of organizations encouraging positive choices and healthy alternatives for teens.

Dells’ Plumbing, Heating and A/C Service is the named sponsor of the Saturday Zumbathon®, a two-hour dance party led by certified Zumba instructors.

TrainerFit is the named sponsor for Jaime’s Race for People with Special Needs, an event in memory of special needs participant Jaime Adams and specially planned for all people with developmental disabilities.

The Lofgren Agency continues as presenting sponsor of Sean’s Rides, the 50-, 20-mile and 10-mile scenic bicycle rides for participants of all abilities. Hudson Design Group, Inc, is back as the 50-mile named sponsor, and New Leaf Tree Services, Inc. continues as named sponsor of the 20-mile ride.

Gold Medal level sponsors include Berkshire Bank, Blue Sea Products, LLC, Columbia Memorial Health, FairPoint Communications, Flex Rehab Physical Therapy, Hawthorne Valley Association, Hover & Mackowski, PLLC, Hudson River Bank & Trust Foundation, MetzWood Insurance, Michael C. Howard, Esq., PC, Pier 33 Gourmet, Price Chopper Supermarkets/Market 32, Screen Designs, Taconic Foundation, Trowbridge Farms and ZF America.

Silver Medal level sponsors include Chatham Flowers, Firehouse Productions, Mark & Cathy French, Park Row Gallery, Simons Catering, Sonoco Plastics, Taconic Driving School, Valley Energy, Williams Lumber & Home Centers and Winding Brook Country Club.

Other Bike Rides sponsors include Bennett Contracting, Bill Primomo DDS & Tricia Primomo DDS, Bob Pinkowski & Kim Chrysler, Head Hunter Family Hair Cutters, JMD Cleaning Services, LLC, Old Chatham Country Store & Café, Our Daily Bread, Primo Mobile DJs and Velo Somestique Bicycle Shop.

Blue Ribbon level sponsors include Bartlett House, Brown’s Emporium, Camphill Ghent, Cantele Tent Rentals, County Outhouses, Ed Herrington, Inc., Lee and Eileen French, French Cut Lawn Service, Jim & Elaine Gilmer, Johnny’s Ideal Printing, Long energy, Pam & Jeff Lappies, Prospera Financial Services, Rich & Sally Kraham and The Mac-Haydn Theatre, Inc.

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Sean's Run Announces Scholarships and Grants Winners

Chatham, January 20, 2016 – The organizers of Sean’s Run Weekend Presented by Dietz and Watson have announced the names of the three high school seniors who have been selected to receive scholarships in memory of Sean Patrick French.  Also announced are the 13 schools and youth groups selected to receive Sean’s Run grants to implement programs designed to combat underage drinking, impaired driving and lax use of seatbelts by teenagers.  Since 2002, thanks to generous sponsors, donors and participants, the event has awarded $219,640 in scholarships and grants. 

The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation manages the Sean Patrick French Memorial Scholarship Fund. An independent selection committee reviewed the 2017 scholarship applications and has selected three winners, including:

Love of Running Scholarship - Chloe Chandler, Ichabod Crane High School.  Chloe plans to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology.  She runs 100M hurdles in Track & Field and she stated in her application that running has prepared her for the challenges ahead in college.  "Jumping hurdles taught me so much about myself, and what it feels like to always work towards something greater, always strive to do better.  Because of track, I know now that I am capable of more than I think I am, and that success comes to those who put in hard work."

Sean Patrick French Memorial Scholarship Winner - Amara Grace Engel, Chatham High School.  Amara plans to attend Rochester Institute of Technology/ National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  Amara exemplifies all the qualities of an outstanding student and community volunteer.  She stated in her application that her hearing loss has taught her “about compassion and to behave with dignity, courage and grace.” Despite a demanding class schedule, she finds time to volunteer for a number of school and community organizations including the Sean’s Run Organizing Committee.

Good Sportsmanship Scholarship Winner - Matthew Brown, North Warren High School. Matthew plans to attend a SUNY college. He gives credit to his competitors for pushing him during races.  He wrote in his application that his first run with his dad in 4th grade inspired him to become a successful high school cross country runner. “When my team won sectionals, as I crossed the finish line in my final high school race, my mind went back to the moment of my first run with my dad.” 

The grants to schools are used to fund programs to respond to the alarming statistic that motor vehicle crashes, according to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), are the leading cause of death for teens.   In 2013, six teenagers ages 16–19, died every day from motor vehicle injuries.  The Center for Injury Research and Prevention has found that nearly 2/3 of those who perish were not using safety belts. 

Per mile driven, drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).  Alcohol consumption greatly increases the likelihood that teens will forego use of seatbelts; nearly three out of every four teenage drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes after drinking and driving were not wearing a seat belt. (CDC)

Schools and youth groups awarded Sean’s Run grants include: In Columbia County – Chatham High School and Chatham Middle School, Hudson HS, New Lebanon MS, Taconic Hills HS and Taconic Hills MS.  In Montgomery County – Fonda-Fultonville HS.  Rensselaer County – Algonquin MS, Averill Park HS and Lansingburgh HS.  In Saratoga County – Shenendehoa HS. In Dutchess County – Pine Plains Stissing Mountain High School and the Dutchess County Council on Addition Prevention and Education. 

Voted in 2016 as “Best Community Event-Spring” in a contest by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Greene Media, Sean’s Run Weekend includes a 5K, Meghan’s Mile, Bike Rides, Zumbathon and a run for People with Special Needs. The 16th Annual Sean’s Run will be held at Chatham High School on Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30. 

A new feature this year, the Firefighter 5K Challenge, will be a friendly competition among fire departments as part of the 5K.   Firefighters will distinguish themselves among the field of over 1,400 runners and walkers by wearing their turnout pants while running.  The fire department that has five members to cross the finish line with the lowest combined time will be designated Champion.

Sean’s Run Weekend also includes a Prevention Educational Expo, a Tribute to Victims and Survivors of drunken driving, and the World Championship Battle of the Belts interscholastic seatbelt bucking contest. 

Sean’s Run Weekend and the scholarships and grants program were established in response to the tragic death of Sean Patrick French, the 17-year old Chatham High School junior, honor roll student, community volunteer and record-setting athlete who was killed on January 1, 2002, as a passenger in an underage drunk-driving car crash.  He was not wearing a seatbelt when he perished.

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Dietz & Watson and Sean’s Run Offering Grants

November 1, 2016 – Dietz and Watson and the organizers of Sean’s Run Weekend have announced the availability of cash grants for youth organizations and schools to implement the fun and fast paced Battle of the Belts, a youth activity designed to increase teens’ use of seatbelts. Dietz and Watson is the Presenting Sponsor of the 16th Annual Sean Run Weekend scheduled for April 29 and 30, 2017 in Chatham. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens; nearly 2/3 of those who perish were not using safety belts. 

Dietz and Watson is one of the largest preparers of premium deli meats and artisan cheeses offered at the finest supermarkets, including Price Chopper/Market 32, and neighborhood delis throughout the United States. Dietz and Watson is the Presenting Sponsor of Sean’ s Run and all of its associated year-round activities including Sean’s Run Weekend in 2017.

 School groups and youth organizations such as Scouts, 4-H, church groups and sports teams, may apply for up to $650 each to implement a Battle of the Belts seatbelt buckling contest and send teams to participate in the World Championship Battle of the Belts at the 16th Annual Sean’s Run Weekend, April 29 and 30, 2017 at Chatham High School.

Instructions for youth groups and schools to submit a one-page application are available at www.SeansRun.com.  Applications are due by December 1, 2016.

Robert Pulda, Account Manager of Dietz and Watson, in announcing their sponsorship stated, “Dietz and Watson is proud to align itself with Sean’s Run.  We believe that this outstanding event is absolutely having a very positive impact and we are quite confident that because of this effort by the entire community, lives are being saved.  Dietz and Watson is a good and responsible neighbor and we are proud to be a part of such a community based effort.”

Sean’s Run Weekend, voted as Columbia County’s Best Community Event-Spring for the past two years, focuses on the problems of underage drinking, impaired driving and teens’ lax use of seat belts.   Last year 1,820 people registered to participate in the event’s many activities.

The weekend’s Saturday activities in 2017 will include Jaime’s Race for People with Special Needs, a Zumbathon® and Bike Rides, featuring 10, 20 and 50-mile noncompetitive rides.

Sunday’s activities include the 5K and Meghan’s Mile, the World Championship Battle of the Belts, a tribute to victims and survivors of drunk driving and a Prevention Education Expo.

$208,640 has been contributed as grants and scholarships by Sean’s Run over the past 15 years thanks to generous sponsors and contributors. Over 125 programs that encourage safe driving have received grants from Sean’s Run and 100 college bound high school seniors have been awarded scholarships since the first event in 2002.

The Battle of the Belts seatbelt buckling contest involves teams of four teens who run to a 4-door car and quickly get into their seats. They all buckle up, raise their hands in the air and a Referee shouts "Rotate!" They unbuckle, get out, run clockwise to the next seat, get in, and buckle up again. The team with the fastest time, after the 4th buckle, is declared the winner. There are awards for the fastest teams, for teams with the loudest cheering sections, best t-shirts and best team names.

Sean’s Run was founded in 2002 following the tragic death of Sean Patrick French, a 17-year old Chatham High School junior, honor roll student, community volunteer and record-setting athlete who was killed on January 1, 2002, as a passenger on a drunk-driving car crash.  This tragedy prompted the enactment of Sean’s Law on January 1, 2003 that requires the suspension of a license upon the first arrest of a 16 or 17 year old on drunken driving charges. 

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New Presenting Sponsor for Sean’s Run Weekend
April 29 & 30, 2017

Dietz and Watson’s sponsorship will specifically help underwrite the costs of two Sean’s Run initiatives: 1) providing cash grants to schools and youth groups to implement educational programs that combat underage drinking, impaired driving and lax use of seat belts by teenagers, and 2) awarding cash scholarships to outstanding high school seniors.  Since 2002, Sean’s Run has raised and awarded $208,640 and the programs funded by Sean’s Run each year impact over 2,000 students.

Dietz & Watson

Other activities of the Sean’s Run committee include the design and production of the World Championship Battle of the Belts, a fun interscholastic seatbelt bucking contest developed to change students’ behaviors and attitudes about use of seatbelts.  The Prevention Education Expo at Sean’s Run Weekend provides young people with information to help them make safe and healthy choices as alternatives to underage drinking. 

Sean’s Run also co-sponsors the Annual Safety Tree Memorial, to remember victims of alcohol-involved car crashes, Child Restraint Car Seat Safety Checks and a safe driving class.

Jeff French, General Chairman of the Sean’s Run Organizing Committee noted, “Having Dietz & Watson, a national company, recognize and support our work is a complement to our efforts and inspires us to grow the scale, scope and impact of the event.   Dietz & Watson’s sponsorship will be turned into grants going to schools and youth groups to fund important educational programs that will impact over 2,000 young people in our region.”

Dietz & Watson Sponsorship

Rob Pulda, second from left, Sales Account Manager with Dietz & Watson, and Jen Varrato, right, also with Dietz & Watson, present check to Sean’s Run committee members, L to R, Mark French, Secretary, Lee French and Jeff French, General Chairman.

Dietz & Watson is a family owned and operated business that is constantly pursuing more healthy recipes to suit a wide range of dietary needs. After four generations of family management, they are still passionate about what they do best—providing fresh and delicious deli products that are both good and good for you. Dietz & Watson uses only the highest quality hand-trimmed, lean beef, ham, turkey and chicken breasts and they never use artificial colors, flavors, fillers, extenders or MSG. In 1996, they started the “Dedicated To Your Healthier Lifestyle®” program—a collection of more than 60 delicious deli meats that exceed USDA, FDA and health organization standards for healthy eating.  In 2015 the company was proud to introduce their Originals Line, featuring Organic Deli meats and Franks! 

Dietz and Watson is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with facilities
in Baltimore, Maryland and Corfu, New York

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Best Of 2016Voted Best Community Event-Spring June 23, 2016 –
For the second year, Sean’s Run Weekend, has been voted Best Community Event-Spring in a contest by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and the Register Star. The event’s participants, spectators, supporters and sponsors, as well as Chamber members and newspaper readers showed their high regard for the event by submitting votes on-line or by mail. Voters were invited to identify “the best” in a number of categories including the best businesses, night life, arts and culture, shopping, food and drink and other services. Other community event winners include Columbia County Fair (Best event summer), Hudson Arts Walk (Best event fall) and Hudson’s Winter Walk (Best event winter).

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This article was originally posted to the Chatham Courier web site on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 11:44 am | Updated: 12:28 pm, Wed Apr 27, 2016.

Running for Sean, Running for Leah
By Karrie Allen Columbia-Greene Media

CHATHAM — The 15th annual Sean’s Run was a two-fold event.

Not only did the weekend have the most registrants yet — 1,820 total — but it drew plenty of support for Chatham graduate and former Division I runner Leah Wightman, who couldn’t make it this year because she is getting ready for a bone marrow transplant.

Yet somehow, she came in first in the 5K.

Her brother, Ross, a junior at Iona College and also a Division I runner, had registered her name instead of his. So when he crossed the finish line at 16:37, it was her name marked as the winner of this year’s Sean’s Run.

Ross

Zach Neven/for Columbia-Greene Media
Ross Wightman, running on behalf of his sister, Leah, finished
Sunday’s Sean’s Run 5K first, with a time of 16:37.

Haley Madsen, who organized a Running for Leah T-shirt fundraiser, was the first woman to cross the finish line at 20:12.

It “was a moving conclusion of the weekend … our biggest and best ever,” said Mark French, secretary of the committee and father of Sean Patrick French, the 17-year-old Chatham athlete was killed in a drunk driving accident on Jan. 1, 2002.

On Saturday, there were 212 bicyclists, 53 Zumbathoners and five who ran the Super Saturday Run for Special Needs Kids. Sunday’s 5K and Meghan’s Mile had 1,550 registered runners and walkers. (Click on related link for more event winners.)

“The event is embraced by the community and thanks to generous sponsors and supporters, we have been able to award over $208,000 in grants to schools to combat underage drinking and impaired driving and to encourage teens to use their seat belts and as scholarships,” French said.

Before the run, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson presented French and his wife, Cathy, with the Congressional Record of the resolution he presented in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 14.

The congressman is a member of the Kinderhook Runners Club and has been participating in Sean’s Run for years. He finished with a time of 31:38.
French called him a “wonderful supporter of our efforts.”

This year was dedicated to Christopher Stewart, a 17-year-old football captain from Shendendehowa, who was killed on Dec. 1, 2012, when a drunk driver slammed into his car.

His parents, Mike and Regina, were the honorary starters of the 5K, French said.
He praised all of the additions this year — the Berkshire Bateria Brazilian drummers (“we heard lots of great comments about them”), the expanded food court (“was a hit”) and the Artists for Sean’s Run booth (“was busy all day”).

The Sean’s Run Committee was more than willing to include the Be the Match booth, organized by Katherine Behrens and Katie Kraham. The organization’s local representative was Joan Chelsen of Staten Island, Behrens said.

“We are pleased that Sean’s Run Weekend was chosen by the friends and family of Leah Wightman to set up a Be the Match booth,” French said.

“I believe we received between 68 and 71 fully complete applications,” Behrens said, adding that some are being reviewed to ensure the registrants are medically capable of donating.

“Joan and I are both happy with the results, as many people came up to us to let us know that they had already registered online before the weekend,” she said. “What amazed us even more so was how people came down on Sunday just to register after seeing Leah’s story on the local news.”

A booth was set up during Sean’s Run Weekend events, where the T-shirts Madsen had made could be picked up. Next to that booth on Sunday was a table where friends and family could leave well wishes on a canvas poster of Wightman, sign her pole vault — which she is retiring — and sign love notes on a “Love Letters” quilt made by Michelle Haner of Chatham.

Wedding planner Lisa Light, who helped organize the wedding hope chest for Wightman and her fiancée, Bob Hennessey, was also collecting wedding gifts.
Wightman’s parents, Steve and Suzanne, were also at Sean’s Run and would be bringing them back to Buffalo.

Steve pointed out that, thanks to technology, Leah was at Sean’s Run. By the doors of the Chatham High School, a video camera and computer had been set up. A sign taped to the camera read: “Come wave to Leah!”

Leading up to Sean’s Run, Wightman and Hennessey had been preparing for their rescheduled wedding, but now she is preparing for a transplant, her father said, adding that the doctors have decided to use a 2-year-old clinical trial and harvest her brother’s bone marrow and then transplant.

On Monday, she was readmitted to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute to start chemotherapy and next week radiation. The wedding will be pushed back for now.
Friends are still raising money to help Wightman and Hennessey with medical and living expenses.

The T-shirt fundraiser raised over $8,500, but Madsen is still taking orders so the final tally is not in, she reported on the Running for Leah Facebook page.

Through the crowdfunding site YouCaring, Behrens has raised (as of Tuesday night) over $19,000, with an initial goal of reaching $20,000, but ultimately $35,000. You can donate at www.youcaring.com/leah-wightman-544747.


“The Sean’s Run Committee painted a special box on the center of the starting line, reserved for [Leah Wightman] and where she will be standing next year,” said French.

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This article was originally written and posted to www.registerstar.com:
Saturday, April 2, 2016 12:59 am | Updated: 1:15 am, Sat Apr 2, 2016.

Safety Tree lighting is a stark reminder
By John Mason Columbia-Greene Media

COLUMBIA COUNTY — If you've wondered whether Columbia Memorial Hospital has continually forgotten to unplug the Christmas Tree on its Columbia Street lawn, at least it's caught your eye. The healthy blue spruce is known as the Safety Tree, and ever since 2010 it's been reminding passersby of the number of alcohol-related fatalities that have disrupted this community in that time.

There were few dry eyes in the lobby of Columbia Memorial Hospital Friday afternoon after Michael and Regina Stewart had finished talking about their experience as parents of Christopher Stewart, 17, who was killed Dec. 1, 2012, when the car he was driving was hit by a car whose driver was intoxicated, high on marijuana, speeding, texting and driving the wrong way on the Northway.

Among those present for the tree-lighting ceremony were event organizer and driving instructor Phil Abitabile, Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka, Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione, Twin County Recovery Services Executive Director Beth Schuster, Hudson Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton, Hudson Common Council President Claudia DeStefano and Alderman Rick Rector, D-1st Ward, Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett, Hudson Police Chief Ed Moore, Sean's Run organizers Mark, Cathy and Jeff French, Columbia County Clerk Holly Tanner, and representatives of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kathy Marchione and Assemblyman Peter Lopez.

Abitabile said the Safety Tree idea had been started by Doris Aiken with a tree at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. He called it a "living billboard," on which the lights are changed from white to red when someone is killed in a drunk-driving accident.

When he and a number of other people brought the idea to Columbia County, Callendar's Nursery donated the tree, and Cantele's Memorials donated the plaque and Colarusso's the rock that sit before the tree.

One of the sponsors of the Safety Tree is Sean's Run, which memorializes the death of Sean French in an underage drunk driving accident in 2002. Sean's father Mark French said U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R,C,I-19, will present a Congressional resolution honoring Sean's Run and all the Sean's Run committee does to stop drunk driving and lax seat belt use among teens.

Czajka said strict sentences deter people, and rehabilitation works well, but educational programs, like this one, have great effectiveness.

"This is important for reminding people of what happens when you make a bad choice," said County Clerk Holly Tanner. "I appreciate the symbolism of the red bulb."

Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said there has been some progress over the past year. He praised Stop DWI Coordinator Reginald Crowley, who "has funneled so much money back to our agencies." And he said a new event this year will the Sean's Run car seat detail.

Stanzione said that in Greene County, any defendant charged with an alcohol-related incident will have to go to a victim-impact panel. "What an impact it's had on family and friends, as well as on the victim," he said. They had been doing one panel a year, with an average attendance of 25; last year they had three such panels, and averaged 70 people at each. Now on June 2, there will be a victim impact panel at the high school.

"This is very important," he said. "High school students are just learning to drive. They think they're invincible; they need education about the dangers of drinking and driving."

"I'm sure many of us in this room have been impacted personally (by drunk driving accidents)," said Hamilton. "The tree outside represents real people, not just statistics. It's a powerful message in the educational campaign. It's had a tremendous impact on all of us."

DeStefano said she hoped that with more showcasing of things like this, "we can bring attention to how important this is."

Moore said the county in the past has only had one drug recognition officer; now that has been increased to three.

Police Commissioner Gary Graziano couldn't be at the ceremony, but sent a note praising the late Officer William Wrigley as "an excellent cop, loved by his community. He was a giant of a guy with a big heart. I think about him often; he was a terrific guy, polite beyond his years, a gentleman to all who met him."

Michael Stewart said he and his wife welcome the chance to say anything about their son Christopher.

"Whether it's Columbia County or Greene County, there are too many drunk and distracted drivers out there. It's a devastating pain for the families who have to go through it. We're fortunate we have schools and communities wiling to support us. Life can be taken so quickly from us. Christopher wasn't doing anything wrong."

Stewart said he had been to a victim impact panel last week in Albany.

"People kept coming in — there were an excess of 200 people. It makes you shake your head there are this many bad choices out there," he said. "We'll try to get stricter and tougher penalties."

Regina Stewart said she has watched victim impact panels, but is not yet able to participate in them. But she and her husband talk to students, and it's different talking to 8th graders than to seniors, because of the different things they're doing and going through.

"We use power points and show pictures of our son," she said. "You can talk about your son for as long as someone's willilng to listen. We got to know Sean (French) by reading the biographies on the Sean's Run site." Now Christopher's biography has been added to that site as well, Stewart said. "On the night of the crash, we had a drug recognition expert on the scene — it made a world of difference for us."

"We have a love-hate relationship with things like this," Stewart said. "it's almost like a ball-and-chain is around your ankle — you can't believe this has happened to your life. It's coming with me one way or the other — carry it? drag it? We would never expect in a million years we would be involved in Sean's Run. Everyone knows someone; if you don't you're going to."

Following the speeches, the crowd walked out to the tree. Two white bulbs were removed and replaced by red bulbs, for the two Columbia County people killed in drunk-driving accidents in 2014. Every year, the Sean's Run Committee chooses someone to dedicate the event to; this year it is dedicated to Christopher Stewart, and so Michael and Regina Stewart replaced a white bulb with a red bulb in memory of their son.

Abitabile said this now makes a total of 18 red lights on the tree, nine each from Columbia and Greene counties, and six for Sean's Run Special Victims dedications.

The tree lighting was the kickoff event of the 15th annual Sean's Run Weekend, which takes place April 23 and 24 at Chatham Fairgrounds and Chatham High School.

The Safety Tree is sponsored by Taconic Driving School, Remove Intoxicated Drivers-USA, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Columbia County Stop DWI and Twin County Recovery Services.

To reach reporter John Mason, call 518-828-1616, ext. 2500, or email jmason@registerstar.com

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