Pilot Club, city light Safety Tree

Published 10:49 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Suffolk Chief of Police Tom Bennett walked around the well-placed, green bulb-adorned Christmas tree, carrying with him a package of red bulbs he hopes he never has to use.

Since 1977, the Pilot Club of Suffolk has joined with the city’s police department in putting up the Safety Tree, a project aimed at raising traffic safety awareness during the holiday season.

“I hope and pray this tree stays green all season long,” Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson said. “This is a great reminder for everyone to slow down and really enjoy the holiday season.”

Johnson joined Bennett and members of the Pilot Club in lighting the tree Tuesday morning.

As part of the program, the tree, which was this year donated by the Elks Lodge, is put up and covered with green lights. When a traffic-related death is recorded within the city limits, one green bulb is replaced with one red bulb.

In 2008 three red bulbs were seen on the tree, while in 2007 the tree remained green all season long.

“It is our goal for this tree to stay green this season,” Pilot Club publicity chair Cathy Richards said. “It is important for everyone to be cautious this season and remain safe.”

As for Bennett, he said the holiday season brings an added risk to motorists.

“We do see more drinking and driving during the holiday seasons,” Bennett said. “But as far as trends with wrecks and fatalities, we see all kinds.

“They happen at all times of day and night, at all places,” he said. “There really isn’t a way to predict them.”

Bennett added his department has definite plans this season to try to catch those behind the wheel who have been drinking.

“We are going to have DUI checkpoints within the city this holiday season,” Bennett said, noting he did not want to publicize when and where those checkpoints would be. “Needless to say, this department is going to be a lot more proactive this year than in the past.”

The tree will remain in its location, on North Main Street in front of the former Suffolk Health Department building, through Dec. 31.