BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A dozen Baton Rouge families gathered Thursday to honor loved ones killed in drunk driving accidents.
The event was put on by Louisiana Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as part of a nationwide "Day of Rememberance." Family members were invited to make a piece of art dedicated to their loved ones.
Julie Vezinot was among those in attendance. She painted a red heart with a blue cross.
"The heart is all of our love, just with the yellow kind of glowing – always sustaining and surrounding him," Vezinot said.
Eight years ago, Vezinot's 24-year-old son Ryan was struck by a drunk driver while walking home from an LSU game. He would die from the injuries, but only after spending eight harrowing months in a coma.
"When I first saw him, I thought I was going to pass out. He was tied up with tubes," she said. "He was such a kind person. I was a single parent, so he always wanted to look out for me and protect mom."
In 2013, 234 Louisianans were killed in drunk driving crashes. Nationwide, about 10,000 are killed each year. Meanwhile, 290,000 are injured in such crashes annually.
MADD leaders say the rate appears to be lower this year but only by a small margin.
"These victims, what they're going through is 100 percent preventable," said Valerie Cox, the programing director for Louisiana MADD. "This is real – drinking and driving takes lives."
Back in 2007, Ronda Wilson lost her 28-year-old daughter Kenya when she was hit by a drunk driver.
"Not a day goes by that I don't miss Kenya," Wilson said, indicating that the holidays are particular difficult.
"She loved to be the taste tester," Wilson remembered. "Even for Thanksgiving, when I was in the kitchen cooking, I could feel her presence, as if she was there. 'Momma, let me taste this, let me taste that.'"
The families say coming together allows for some small degree of comfort.
"Even though some people say 'I know how you're feeling,' these people literally understand how I feel," Vezinot said.
Beyond sharing memories, however, they say their biggest goal is to share their message – drunk driving hurts many people, not just those killed.
"His friends, his family, and everyone who knew him are impacted, so that's a lot of lives you impact by one action," Vezinot said.