Sean's Run Safety Tree
Every 31 minutes, someone is killed by a drunk driver in the United States – almost 50 per day, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Hundreds more suffer physical and emotional injury because of drunk drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And the anguish caused by this trauma never fully dissipates for the families left behind. Relatives and friends are forced to endure the pain of suddenly loosing of a loved one because of a preventable death.
In Columbia and Greene counties, these families and the victims of alcohol and/or drug-involved car crashes are remembered during an annual spring-time observance when the organizers of Sean’s Run, partner with the Taconic Driving School, Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID—USA), Columbia Memorial Health, Columbia County Stop DWI and Twin County Recovery Services, to host the Safety Tree Lighting Ceremony.
The annual observance, usually the last Friday in March, is conducted in the lobby of the Medical Office Building at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, NY. This short-but-moving ceremony concludes outside near the entrance of the Emergency Room, at the Safety Tree Living Billboard, a blue spruce that grows on a hospital lawn.
Planted at the hospital on April 1, 2011, the Safety Tree is draped with strings of white lights as a living billboard reminding everyone about the danger of impaired driving. The partner organizations memorialize every individual who has perished in an alcohol or drug-involved car crash in the twin counties the previous year by switching a white light bulb to a red bulb during the annual observance. The red bulbs will be permanent reminders of those lost and of the deadly consequences of drunk driving.
The Safety Tree Billboard remains lit every day of the year. The red lights remember each one of the people who died in the two counties because of alcohol/drug related crashes. The sponsors’ hope that the tree serves as a permanent public reminder that drinking/drugging and driving is still a major menace to life and health.
HISTORY OF THE SAFETY TREE
In February 2008, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Remove Intoxicated Driers - RID-USA, Doris Aiken, founder and president of RID, initiated the original “Safety Tree Billboard”. In partnership with Ellis Hospital, a “Safety Tree Billboard” was placed on Ellis Hospital grounds 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 in 2002 with 418 participants as a community run/walk to remember Sean Patrick French, a victim of drunk driving, and to remind the community about the dangers of underage drinking and impaired driving. The event is scheduled strategically during Prom Season, the last weekend in April, because this is the time of the year when the greatest number of underage alcohol-involved car crashes occurs. In a recent 12-month period, nearly one third of all car crashes with minor drivers are alcohol involved.
In the 17 years since the inaugural Sean’s Run, the event has grown into a full weekend of activities attracting over 1800 entrants over the two days. Sean’s Run Weekend includes the 5K and Meghan’s Mile; a Prevention Education Expo; Tribute to Victims of Drunk Driving; 10, 20 and 50-mile bike rides; a Zumbathon; Super Saturday Run for runners with special needs kids and the World Championship Battle of the Belts. This is an interscholastic seatbelt buckling competition to raise awareness about seatbelt use. About half of all teens killed in car crashes were not using seatbelts.
All money raised is used to support the event’s two areas of interest: 1) Grants to schools and youth groups to fund programs that combat underage drinking, impaired driving and lax use of seatbelts by teens, and 2) scholarships to deserving high school seniors. In 2018 the Organizing Committee of Sean’s Run has presented 14 grants and 3 scholarships. Since 2002 the Committee has awarded $219,640 in grants and scholarships.