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FARMINGTON — With 50 uniformed officers from different departments standing in support, Farmington Station unveiled its 25-foot-tall Christmas tree Tuesday. Each one of the 70 custom ornaments bears the name of a victim of a DUI crash in Utah during the last five years.
Katie Hancock, of Eagle Mountain, is one of those victims. On Pioneer Day 2014, the 15-year-old was killed in a car accident on state Route 73.
"Pioneer Day will never be the same. Christmas will never be the same," said David Hancock, Katie's father.
That afternoon, the family planned to get together for a holiday barbecue. David was driving when the family car was hit head-on by a drunken driver.
"I remember the impact, the loud boom, and the car spinning and spinning and spinning," David said.
Katie was sitting up front and her two brothers were in the backseat. They were all buckled in, David said, but when he called out for his kids Katie did not respond.
"She was slumped over the dashboard and I could tell she was gone," David said.
The drunken driver died too; her blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.
"The violence of the crash is what first impacted me," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
In fact, Cannon called it one of the most violent crashes he's ever seen. The impact of the collision blew the engine of the Hancocks' car 150 yards away.
"When you see how many lives are impacted by it, it's hard to separate the emotions from the need to do the job," said Cannon, who has kids of his own who are about the same age as the Hancock children.
"When I realize that could've easily been one of my own children, or somebody I know, yeah, it's hard to separate the personal emotion," he said.
Katie's parents said she loved sweets, loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. Her mother, who was at work when the accident happened, said Katie was a real character who knew how to make people laugh. She said her daughter had really just found herself as a teenager.
"She was OK. She was happy with who she was," Libby Hancock said.
The family shared their emotional journey at Tuesday's gathering because, they said, Katie would have wanted it that way.
"If we can save one family from having this inexpressible experience, then it will be worth it," Libby said.
Families are changed. People are killed. The tree behind us has 70 names on it: people whose lives were cut short because of a careless act.
–David Hancock, father of DUI victim
"Families are changed. People are killed," David said. "The tree behind us has 70 names on it: people whose lives were cut short because of a careless act."
"It's not fair to the families of anybody," Libby said.
According to Zero Fatalities statistics, nearly 30 people in the United States die every day in an automobile crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2012, Utah crash data shows that driving under the influence caused 45 fatalities, 161 serious injuries and 1,812 crashes.
Male drivers ages 20 to 24 represent the highest percentage of drivers involved in alcohol and drug-related crashes. Statistics also show in 2014, there have been 17 impaired-driver fatalities so far.
During the next couple of weeks, state troopers and officers from local Utah jurisdictions will make extra patrols on the roads to help curb DUI fatalities. They urge all Utahns to make the right decision before they get behind the wheel.
As a father who still feels the pain from the loss of his child, David Hancock made this emotional plea: "Please, please, please do not drink and drive. The price of drinking and driving is just too high."