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April 19, 2014

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Sunset Park renovations force relocation of DUI memorial plaques

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Home News

Diane Fisher, left, helps her daughter Lisa Strahlem light a remembrance candle as the names of DUI accident victims are read aloud during an annual service held by Stop DUI Saturday at Sunset Park. on December 13. Fisher is still recovering from injuries she sustained from an accident caused by a drunk driver.

Stop DUI Plaques

Sandy Heverly, the president of Stop DUI, right, is embraced by Patti Vesely during an anual memorial held Saturday at Sunset Park to remember those who have been lost in DUI accidents. Vesely's daughter Cody was killed by a drunk driver at the intersection of Russel and Lamb in 1997. At left is Vesely's daughter Emma. Launch slideshow »

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At this year's memorial tree dedication hosted by the local organization Stop DUI, the scene was a little different than usual.

For the first time since the tree-planting tradition began at Sunset Park in 1994, rather than commemorate lives lost at the hands of drunken drivers with the placement of engraved plaques beneath red-ribbon-decorated new trees, many attendees went about preserving the memories of their loved ones by removing their dedications from the park.

Due to renovations at Sunset Park taking place during the next few years that include the addition of a loop road that will roughly follow the outline of the park's lake, a number of the close to 300 trees that have been planted and dedicated in memory of lives lost will have to be removed.

The victim dedications, however, will not be forever gone from the park.

Clark County Parks and Recreation Senior Management Analyst Russ Thompson said that park renovations will include a new Stop DUI Memorial Plaza, but he said the look of the plaza as well as the location have not yet been decided.

Stop DUI Executive Director Sandy Heverly ensured that the name of every person to whom a tree was previously dedicated as well as the names of any new victims will all be represented in the new plaza.

In the meantime, many of the engraved plaques that have sat at Sunset Park for as many as 15 years will be relocated.

Northwest Las Vegas resident Leticia Lemos said the dedication to her 9-year-old son Eric will be placed under a tree at her home.

"When my son was murdered back in 1999, we were just buying a house and there was a tree given to us in memory of my baby Eric, so I'll lay the plaque under that tree," she said.

Stop DUI is a local non-profit organization dedicated to stopping the crime of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol as well as assisting the victims of the crime.

Among those helped by the group are the families of the people who were killed as the result of drunken drivers.

The Nevada Department of Public Safety reports that there have been 100 alcohol-related fatalities year to date. That number is down from a total of 134 deaths at this time last year.

The group's vice president and former president Cheryl Pushea, who lost her unborn child as well as her grandfather due to the actions of a drunken driver, said memorial events such as the tree dedication help people to deal with their loss.

"You carry such weight and anger. Something like this in memory of someone you lost, it helps with that anger and those feelings, especially to have people there with similar feelings. And too, you know they're not gone and forgotten," she said.

Pushea said she along with other people affiliated with the group are all looking forward to seeing what the new memorial will look like.

Ashley Livingston can be reached at 990-8925 or [email protected].

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