DUI Victims memorial from The Meadville Tribune on Vimeo.
By Mary Spicer
VERNON TOWNSHIP — The September day back in 2001 that’s forever burned in Ellie Luba’s memory isn’t Tuesday the 11th. It’s Sept. 9, the day her older sister made a tragic decision. Shelley Anne Marie Luba got into a car driven by someone who had been drinking — and she didn’t live to tell the tale.
Saturday afternoon, Ellie climbed a short staircase and entered a 30-foot trailer parked in the lot between Wal-Mart and Staples Plaza. Inside, she saw her sister’s name inscribed on a 25-foot memorial wall along with approximately 1,500 others.
“It’s great to see Shelley’s name up there. She’s remembered every day by all her family and all of her friends — and this is a way for everybody else to see it,” she said.
“It’s a shame,” she added, “that they’re all here because somebody was drinking and driving.”
The DUI Victims Moving Memorial will be open to the public again today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., giving visitors an opportunity to pay respects, submit the names of DUI victims for inclusion on the wall and sign a pledge to drive sober, obey speed limits and always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle.
The visit is part of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Operation Safe Holiday, a program designed to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities during the current holiday season. In Crawford County, figures compiled by PennDOT indicate there were six alcohol-related deaths in 2007, down from 11 in 2006.
In addition to PennDOT, sponsors of the visit include Crawford County DUI Task Force, Vernon Township Police Department and Pennsylvania DUI Association.
For Frank Baranyai, coordinator of the Crawford County DUI Task Force, it’s personal.
Shelley Luba was his niece. “She was a 20-year-old student up at Edinboro University (of Pennsylvania) just getting her life started,” Baranyai said Saturday, shortly before his niece Ellie arrived. “The mistake Shelley made was getting into the car with somebody who was already drunk. She got off work that night and a little bit later, she was dead.”
His interest in putting a stop to drunk driving, however, was kindled much earlier, back when the veteran law enforcement officer was a teenager. “I was in Vietnam when I got a letter from my family that three of my friends back here were all killed because they were drunk,” he recalled. “It caught my interest — and things sort of took off from there.”
Owned and operated by Pennsylvania DUI Association, the trailer features the names of DUI victims who have been honored in a memorial garden at the association’s Harrisburg headquarters. Built in conjunction with MADD Pennsylvania and various corporate sponsors and opened to the public in 2003, the garden incorporates bricks, pavers and benches in addition to trees, shrubs and flowering plants in a setting designed to be both beautiful and serene. The garden is open to the public 365 days per year.
Two years ago, the organization launched a roving memorial in an effort to reach out to the people of Pennsylvania.
With Mike Martin, who designed and built the trailer, behind the wheel, it’s logged about 45,000 miles so far. “The names of people who have been killed by a drunk driver are etched in bricks,” he continued. “It’s very beautiful — it’s overlooking the Susquehanna River.”
While some names on the list date back to the 1970s, more are being added regularly. “If a loved one has been killed in a crash involving a drunk driver, all they have to do is contact us for the name to be put on the wall,” Martin explained. “We’ll be updating it this year, so now’s a good time to do it.”
Names that have been submitted but not yet added to the wall are displayed on a video inside the trailer.
The trailer’s visit is just part of an ongoing effort by local law-enforcement personnel to discourage drunk driving. “We’ve been running DUI checkpoints around the county every month,” Baranyai explained. “We’re certainly pleased the DUI Association was kind enough to bring the trailer into our area as well.”
“It’s nice that we got this in Crawford County,” Todd Pfeifer, chief of Conneaut Lake Regional Police Department, agreed, noting that many local law enforcement officers have volunteered to staff the display and provide information for visitors. “DUI is one of the biggest problems we have here in Crawford County, so it’s nice to have.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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