The handmade angels on the tree that stands in the Yellowstone County Courthouse lobby honor innocent people whose lives were cut short by impaired drivers. Every year before Christmas, the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force members gather around the Angel Tree to remember these victims and to recognize local leaders who work to prevent drunken and drugged driving.
No new angels were added to the tree at the annual ceremony Thursday. Deputy County Attorney Morgan Dake explained that angels are added when the court case stemming from the DUI fatality has been fully adjudicated. Although there were at least three people killed by DUI this year in Yellowstone County, the criminal cases are still being prosecuted in District Court.
The Angel Tree gathering traditionally recognizes outstanding efforts by local law officers with awards of merit. The 2018 honorees are:
- MHP Trooper Kirk Robbins, who is the Billings district leader in DUI arrests with 51 this year.
- Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Deputy Harrison Gillen, who has arrested more than 70 DUI drivers since joining the department in 2016.
- Billings Police Officer Glenn Gunther, who made 49 DUI arrests in the past year.
This year an award of merit also was presented to Darla Tyler-McSherry, who has long served as Task Force coordinator.
“Through Darla’s guidance and tireless efforts, our task force was able to expand current DUI prevention programs and implement new and innovative programs that adapt to today’s changing landscape,” Monty Wallis, a veteran task force member, wrote in nominating Tyler-McSherry.
“Through her guidance and efforts, the DUI Task Force has increased its visibility in local schools by partnering with school resource officers, and by supporting local treatment courts providing services to those struggling with addiction problems,” Wallis continued.
Tyler-McSherry’s full-time job is directing student health services at Montana State University Billings. Her work with the DUI Task Force is an important extension of her professional commitment to community health and safety.
Montana has made significant progress in reducing the toll of DUI, but much more must be done.
The percentage of Montana traffic fatalities in which alcohol was a factor has decreased from 50 percent to 37 percent in the past two years even as the total number of fatalities has fallen, according to MHP statistics.
But still, so far in 2018, there have been 61 traffic deaths in which alcohol use is suspected and 20 in which other drugs are suspected to be a factor, according to Montana Highway Patrol data. That is an unacceptable toll.
We salute the DUI Task Force and the law enforcement officials who work every day to take intoxicated drivers off our public streets and roads. The job won’t be done until there are no more angels to place on a remembrance tree in Billings or anywhere else in Montana.
During the December-January holiday season, law enforcement agencies usually step up their efforts to encourage sober driving, the use of designated drivers and planning ahead for safe rides home from parties. But DUI isn’t limited to holidays, it’s a year-round menace that requires constant vigilance from all of us. Don’t drink and drive; and don’t let your loved ones drive drunk — ever.