TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The families of victims killed in drunken driving accidents remembered their loved ones on Wednesday at a ceremony in New Jersey that also honored law enforcement officers who made the most DWI arrests in the state last year.
The third annual New Jersey Remembers event in Trenton recognized officers from each of the state’s 21 counties. Top honors went to Pennsauken Township Police Officer Joe Kuchmek, who made 86 arrests.
“It feels great,” Kuchmek said of being awarded Top Gun. “It feels like, for me, you choose to make a difference.”
Police officers made more than 30,000 DWI arrests in 2012, according to the state attorney general’s office. Thirty percent of crash fatalities in the state are alcohol-related.
Before the officers were honored, family members of those killed by drunken drivers held framed photos of the victims as they told stories of horrific accidents and adjusting to life after losing a husband, brother, son or daughter.
Louise Hammell spoke of her son Matthew, killed 19 years ago when he was hit by a drunken driver while he was out roller-blading. Hammell, of Tuckerton, described changes to her daily routine after losing her 17-year-old son.
“We had to start eating on TV trays in the living room,” Hammell said after trying to have dinner in their dining room for a few nights. “Having to look at Matthew’s empty chair was so painful that I just couldn’t do it.”
Sheri Shelton of Lower Township was in the car with her husband and daughter more than three years ago when a drunken driver plowed into their vehicle. Her husband Fred was killed and she was severely injured. She described a messy scene, one that her 12-year-old daughter experienced vividly after the accident pushed Shelton’s husband, who was driving, into the back seat next to their child.
“My daughter’s last memory of her father was his lifeless eyes staring straight out, his limp hand on her knee, all the while she heard my blood curdling screams of pain,” Shelton told the audience.
Shelton said she still wakes up with pain caused by the accident. She said her family was deeply scarred by the accident.
“I miss my husband, my friend and my soul mate,” she said.
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