This Christmas will be a busy holiday season on the roads. Triple A estimates more than 50 million people plan to drive to their holiday destinations. Through Operation Zero Tolerance, police are taking steps to make sure they all arrive safely.
The campaign for safer roads kicked off Thursday afternoon on Hutchinson Island. Law enforcement officers from around Georgia plan to blanket the roads through January second to make sure you're wearing your seatbelt and not drinking and driving.
Police and citizens are taking the campaign to heart. Many of them have not only witnessed tragedy on the roads, their families have been victims, as well.
Gale Coleman knows all too well how families can suffer. Twenty-four years ago, her 14 year old son, Barry, was killed by a drunk driver.
"It changes lives forever, "explains Coleman. "Not only for us, with the loss, but also for the driver. The 19 year old who hit my son is still suffering to this day."
On May 16, 1980, Barry Coleman was riding his bicycle when police say he was struck by a drunk driver leaving a bar. "He lived 21 days without ever regaining consciousness," says Coleman. For eleven years, she sought to speak with the man who took her son's life. When she finally found him, she forgave him. Now she wants even casual drinkers to heed the warning.
"No one ever intends for something like this to happen," she explains. "Even people who are drinking and driving, they never have a thought that this could happen to them."
For five years, Lieutenant Luther Hires has been using a rollover simulator built by Jesup Police and the local community to show people what could happen if you don't wear your seatbelt. The simulator has a lot of meaning for those who brought it into being. The builder's grandson was killed in a rollover crash. Lt. Hires also lost his son, 17 years ago. William Hires, II, was just 20 when he climbed into a car with a drunk driver. It was a fatal mistake.
"That's 17 birthdays, Father's Days, Christmases that we haven't been able to share with him," says Lt. Hires. "That's all because of the decisions he made. He made the decision not to put a seatbelt on. He made the decision to ride with someone who had been drinking."
Both Gale Coleman and Lt. Hires shared their stories through Operation Zero Tolerance in hopes that they will inspire others to be safe on the road during the holidays and all year long.