Interstate Fatalities Expected To Surpass Last Year
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- So far this year, 933 people have died on Tennessee's roads and the number expected to exceed last year's total of 937.
Wednesday, law enforcement officials from all across the state gathered to issue a warning to drivers during what's usually a busy holiday season. Meanwhile, Jennifer Leonard wanted to issue a plea.
"As a family we spent every single holiday together; big ones, little ones, every one of them," Leonard remembered.
Every bulb a Christmas tree displayed during the law enforcement press conference at the Millennium Maxwell hotel represents a life lost as a result of an alcohol or drug related accident.
"Stephanie loved Christmas," Leonard said. "It's hard going through this season and having that empty chair. It's hard not hearing her laughter."
In February, 29 year old Stephanie Leonard was killed after her car was hit head on. The drunk driver was going the wrong way on the interstate.
"I look at that tree and I think about my sister. But I also think about all the other lives that were touched through her life and people that are hurting now because she's gone."
In April, digital message boards on the highway began reminding drivers to be more cautious and tracked how many people have been killed on Tennessee's roads.
"The awareness that it's creating, we do think has had a very positive impact," Kendell Poole, Director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office, said.
Law enforcement hoped the extra awareness would keep fatalities under 900. Instead the numbers are expected to exceed last year's total.
"I do think warmer weather has had a great impact this year. When we have warm weather that means more people are driving," Poole added.
When Jennifer Leonard see's the boards she knows there's a grieving family behind each increasing number.
"We miss her every day," she said about Stephanie. "It doesn't get easier. It's learning to live in a new way."
That's why she has this message to drivers before getting behind the wheel.
"Don't be selfish. Take a moment and think about someone else."
During this holiday season law enforcement is stepping up patrol. While alcohol is the cause of nearly one-third of the deadly accidents, they're also warn against other impairments like being under the influence of prescription drugs.