From afar, this Christmas tree may look like any other, but up close it shares stories of heartache and loss.
"It destroyed an entire community. It really hurt our entire community and now everyone is grieving still to this day," Cheyenne Olsen said.
The Red Ribbon Tree at the Diamond Run Mall in Rutland was put up Friday and is the work of students from the Stafford Technical Center.
"We just want everyone to be safe this holiday season and realize that drinking and drugged driving do have consequences," said Gabrielle Guastamachio, a student at Stafford Technical Center.
Each ribbon has the name of a man or woman who died on the road in crashes where drugs and or alcohol were a factor.
Cheyenne Olsen is a high school senior who lost her best friend, Carly Ferro, in September. Police say the driver who hit Ferro in Rutland had been huffing chemicals to get high.
"It's almost not real," Olsen said. "It's almost like it didn't happen or she's still somewhere, I am waiting for her to walk in my door and ask for Ramen noodles like she did every day after school and she is just not there anymore."
Nor are 74 others who have died in Vermont crashes so far this year, more than 25 percent of which involved drugs or alcohol.
"There is no more violent crime than someone being killed in an impaired driving accident," Rutland Police Chief James Baker said.
These students realize that many will still choose to use dangerous substances; they just hope this tree will help them remember to stay off the roads if they do.
"I think about it every day," Olsen said. "It's one of the hardest things of it all. There is nothing that could have been done except for one person could've made a better choice."
A choice Olsen says could have saved the friend she loved.
Students have been sponsoring the Red Ribbon campaign in Rutland for the last decade.
Sunday, May 19 2013 12:06 AM EDT2013-05-19 04:06:03 GMT
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Saturday, May 18 2013 7:51 PM EDT2013-05-18 23:51:14 GMT
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Saturday, May 18 2013 7:49 PM EDT2013-05-18 23:49:26 GMT
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