As New Year's events near, a sobering reminder about drinking, driving

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Focus on drinking, driving as New Year's events near.

Beefed up patrols, more education programs in schools and services such as Uber and Lyft are being credited with lowering the number of drunk driving deaths in North Carolina.

Sgt. Michael Baker with the North Carolina Highway Patrol said that in 2015, 233 people died in alcohol-related crashes. This year, to date, that number is at 185.

While this is positive news, Barbara Bales, who now lives in Durham, says one death is too many.

"Bekah was 21 years and 13 days old. All the rest of her life is gone," said Bales, who used to live in California.

Her daughter, Bekah Zask, was studying for a career in the fashion industry, had done some modeling and even taken acting courses earlier in her life. She was a fan of house music and loved her friends.

But her young life was cut short on July 19, 2001, when she was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver while trying to cross the street.

"A drunken woman came, went out of her lane, picked her up. Bekah's head hit the windshield right in front of her face. She dragged her down the street, about the length of a football field, took her out of her shoes," described Bales, "dumped her body in the median and then went home to bed."

She said the driver was a 52-year old woman who was later sentenced to four years in prison. Bales said she served just over two years before being released. Bales says she's since learned to forgive herself for choosing not to forgive that driver.

Years later, she honors her daughter's memory by keeping photos of her close by and by sharing her story in hopes of stopping others from drinking and driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that every day 28 people in the United States die in alcohol-related crashes. They say that amounts to one person every 53 minutes.

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As we approach the New Year's Eve weekend, those hosting celebrations plan to be vigilant.

"The biggest issue on New Year's Eve is people love to bar hop," said Victor Khoury, owner of Saints and Scholars Irish Pub.

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The pub is hosting a New Year's party and expect the crowds to be even bigger since the holiday falls on a Saturday night. Khoury said his bartenders know to watch for people who may be too intoxicated to prevent overserving.

In the past, he said he has even paid for people to have safe rides home out of his own pocket.

Troopers will also be out in full force, watching for drunken drivers.

And while the North Carolina Highway Patrol reports alcohol-related deadly crashes are down 20 percent, Bales' loss is a reminder that even one is too many.

"It didn't have to happen, it should not have happened, she should still be alive," Bales said. "It all involves a choice. A terrible choice on the part of someone driving impaired."

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