UPPER PITTSGROVE TOWNSHIP — Thousands of trucks, cars and SUVs drive Route 40 through Salem County — an area that can range from open cornfields to residential homes — every day.

On Friday, dozens gathered alongside the busy road for the rededication of a stone memorial for Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, of Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, who was killed in a head-on collision with a drunken driver in the early morning of July 22, 2000.

The 17th anniversary of his death is Saturday.

The memorial was recently renovated, adding new stonework and a metal railing, with labor by Iron Workers Union Local 399 and the International Union of Bricklayers.

The ceremony began with an honor-guard salute and dedicating prayer by the Rev. Ronald Watts, of Central United Methodist Church in Linwood. They also named mile marker 15.4 to 15.5 on Route 40 as John R. Elliott HERO Campaign Way.

Legislation to rename the portion of Route 40 was sponsored by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, state Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro.

“This was the right thing to do. It was the easy thing to do,” Sweeney said.

“After we passed this bill — and it passed quickly — I told the governor the anniversary of his son’s death is coming up soon: I need this bill signed now. I left his office, and he signed it that day,” said Sweeney, referring to Bill Elliott, John’s father.

The Elliott family, dressed in HERO Campaign hats and golf shirts, took a moment Friday to reflect on the changes they have made in South Jersey.

“We launched the HERO campaign to honor our son, and we hoped we could save just one life by encouraging people to be designated drivers,” Bill Elliott said.

The HERO Campaign has grown from a grass-roots initiative to promote designated drivers into an organization with a message that reaches across seven states and has been sponsored by major league sports, retail chains, law enforcement and schools.

“Our son’s story we thought would move people,” said Elliott. “We have met a lot of other victims’ families who want their sons and daughters remembered and have adopted the HERO campaign because of its positive approach and focus on the individual stories behind each victim.”

The roadside memorial and road dedication signs, for which the HERO Campaign is fundraising, will provide awareness to travelers, though Elliott said spreading their message has been easier in the digital age, with the popularity of social media sites like Facebook and through partnerships with ride-hailing service Uber.

“We’re just a tiny organization compared to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), but as we grow, those partnerships and contributions they make give us the increased resources so people will hear about the campaign,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7286 lcarroll@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPress_LC

Staff Writer

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.

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