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Lights On Caravan marks 30 years of fighting DWI

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Lights On Caravan marks 30 years of fighting DWI
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It's the holiday season, and you know what that means; a lot of gatherings with friends and family that could include having a drink or two. As law enforcement officials get ready to crack down on DWI offenders, they're reminding people not to put themselves and others in dangerous situations to begin with. Our Sarah Blazonis has the story of one longtime effort that was partly inspired by one father's grief.

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- In the aftermath of a drunk driving crash, there are the scars you can see, and those you can't. That was something Donald Barrett knew all too well.

"Don lost his son, Michael, who was 22 years old, in 1984 to a drunk driver," said Sue Ellen Kirschenheiter, Barrett's Widow. "His way of dealing with it was to try to prevent it from happening to anyone else."

One of Barrett's efforts was the Lights on Caravan. For 30 years, dozens of police, fire, and other emergency vehicles have wound through Onondaga County. It's meant to remind drivers about law enforcement's upcoming DWI crackdown and to plan ahead for how they'll get home from holiday gatherings before they've had that first drink.

"Now we stop using that thought process and are just like, 'Oh, no, I can handle it,' and become invincible. The more we drink, the more invincible we are, and that's the worst time to climb into that car," said Bob Keller, Chairman of the Lights on Caravan Committee for the Onondaga County Traffic Safety Advisory Board.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that New York saw 344 deaths related to drunk driving in 2012, up from 328 the year before. Still, law enforcement officials say that's a decrease from what it was decades ago. Part of that has to do with tougher penalties enacted through the years.

"The license gets taken almost immediately by the court while they go through the process. It's an expensive process because you've got to get an attorney and the fines that go along with it," said Onondaga County Undersheriff Warren Darby.

Typical offenses can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 according to STOP DWI New York.

But there's no way to measure the cost to families of those lost.

Donald Barrett died earlier this year, but family and friends say it's what he did in life that will be remembered.

Saturday, officials announced this event was renamed the Donald H. Barrett Lights On Caravan.

"His goal was just to help others, and he would've been so amazed and so pleased and honored, totally honored," said Kirschenheiter.

And it's hoped a father's legacy created in his son's memory will help keep others safe this holiday season.

Law enforcement's holiday crackdown on drunk driving in New York is scheduled to run from December 12 to January 1. During this time, officers will be aggressively looking for those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Again, officials recommend planning ahead and finding a designated driver or taking public transportation if you know you'll be drinking.

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