Victims of DUI remembered at MADD candlelight vigil

Cassandra Kitchens of Phenix City still misses her 7-year-old son Ayden Kitchens almost a year after he was killed by a drunk driver on Veterans Parkway.

The Kitchens’ family, including Ayden’s three siblings, were at the Government Center Thursday evening for a Mothers Against Drunk Driving candlelight vigil for impaired driving victims and survivors.

Since the crash a few days before Christmas in 2015, Kitchens said it has been hard for the family. She was with Ayden when the driver crashed into their vehicle. “It’s hard but we are making it,” she said after lighting a candle for her son. “I know Ayden is probably better off than we are. It’s sad to say.”

Tara Rotthoff, a volunteer victim advocate for MADD, said she remembered her friend Sam Hubbell who was only 14-years-old when he was struck by a drunk driver and killed in Michgan in 1992.

“Our No. 1 goal here today is to reach victims in the community,” she said. “I have literally a three-ring binder at home of local victims who were killed or seriously injured in crashes. They are all stories from the news. We want to reach those families. We want people to know that those lives matter.”

Rotthoff is a supporter of the sign program in Columbus where signs are posted to note where someone was killed by a drunk Driver.

Sharlenor Whatley, a victim service specialist for MADD in Columbus , said the vigil was the first event in Columbus but the main office is in Atlanta. There was a vigil in Augusta in July and the statewide vigil is held in December. “We hold multiple vigils annually in Georgia,” she said.

The evening was special for the Columbus Police Department. It was the first time the department showed off its specially painted cruiser in its effort to combat drunk driving.

Maj. J.D. Hawk of the Patrol Services Division said the car will be used for programs to educate people on dangers of drunk driving. “Tonight was the first time it was out,” he said. “It will be out this weekend.”