NORTHFIELD — This week marks 16 years since the death of Nelson Albano’s son, Michael, who was killed by a drunken driver at age 19.
This year is also the first year since Michael’s death that Albano, 63, of Vineland, has been able to put up a Christmas tree with his family in the years following his son’s death.
“The pain and the suffering and grief and the sorrow is here each day,” Albano said. “We can do away with drunken-driving deaths in this country if everyone does their part.”
Albano, a former state Assemblyman in the 1st Legislative District, was standing with several other area families Saturday who have lost family members to drunk drivers to record video PSAs about just that — the dangers of drunken driving — and to spread the message during the holidays.
The effort was part of a first-time project by the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers to spread the importance of designated drivers and to raise awareness about the drunk-driving problem locally during the holiday season.
From a Northfield studio Saturday morning, the families from around the state recorded the videos, telling their story and urging people to not to get behind a wheel if they are impaired.
The 10 families described the impact their loss has had on their lives, but also how the deaths were preventable and “the result of a bad decision,” said Bill Elliott, who founded the HERO Campaign with his wife.
They founded the campaign about 17 years ago after their son, Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, was killed by a drunken driver in 2000.
“Getting on the road and driving is a conscious decision people make,” he said. “It’s to get people to plan ahead.”
Some family members came alone to record, and others came with their children or spouses.
For Dawn Thomas, 53, of Egg Harbor City, she brought her 5-year-old grandson, Jacob Dickerson, with her.
Jacob was only 2 years old when his father, Thomas’ son, 29-year-old Alfonso Dickerson, was killed by a former Absecon police dispatch supervisor who was driving drunk.
Thomas and her grandson recorded a video together Saturday.
“The saddest thing is, not only did I lose a son, but Jacob will never know his father,” she said. “I am sentenced to life for a crime I never committed.”
The videos the families recorded Saturday will be dispersed through social media channels and the campaign to spread the message, Elliott said. The goal is to prevent more people from getting on the road and putting others’ lives at risk.
The family of Chad Horne traveled from Freehold to Northfield to record for the campaign. Horne was 22 when he was killed by a drunken driver who blew through a red light in 2010, also killing two of Horne’s family members in the car with him.
January marks eight years since his death, said his father, Michael Horne.
“There’s days I can talk about it, and there are days I can’t,” Michael said.
Michael Horne and his wife, Chad’s stepmother, Laura, wanted to spread the message of responsibility through the HERO campaign.
“We know spreading awareness can help somebody else,” Laura Horne said. “Who doesn’t want to be a hero?”