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Angel tree ceremony

Families and law enforcement members gather Thursday at the Yellowstone County Courthouse to place two new ornaments on the DUI Task Force Angel Tree to honor those who lost their lives in alcohol related crashes.

Frank Dominguez and several family members stood out in the crowd that gathered around the Angel Tree in the Yellowstone County Courthouse lobby Thursday. They all wore black T-shirts emblazoned "In loving memory of Sterling Dominguez" over the photo of the son killed by a drunken driver. On the back the shirts said: "Don't drink and drive. It ruins more lives than just your own."

Dominguez, 20, was fatally injured when a drunken driver struck him from behind and left the scene. The father of two young boys had been walking near his Billings home when he was hit. He died days later in a hospital.

"Sterling just loved life," his father said at the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force Angel Tree ceremony. "Being with friends and family. And food. Nobody enjoyed a Baconator more than he did. But Sterling's greatest quality was being a daddy. Gauge and Frankie were his greatest accomplishments and they remind me of him every day and how awesome Sterling was."

Family members placed Sterling Dominguez's angel on the tree, an ornament of crystal and sterling silver.

Tesha Dawn Williams was sentenced to 25 years for striking the pedestrian. Officer Don Cetrone, of the Montana State University Billings Police Department, stopped Williams shortly after the hit-and-run as she drove westbound in the eastbound lane of Rimrock Road.

Cetrone was among four officers honored for their efforts to enforce DUI laws. Other honorees were Cameron Fox of Billings Police Department, Harrison Gillen of Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office and Chase Resmussen, Laurel Police Department. The Task Force also recognized the efforts of Kacy Keith and Traci Jordan, who have established five sober living houses for women in Billings in less than a year. Attorney Morgan Dake was honored for her leadership of the task force and innovative efforts to raise awareness of DUI.

The family of Jeff Dyekman, 52, placed an angel on the tree in memory of the construction worker who was killed on the job near Interstate 90. He was hit by a commercial truck, driven by Ethan James Anderson, 29, who had been huffing Dust-Off. Dyekman is survived by his widow and two children.

Anderson was sentenced to 40 years in Montana State Prison with 15 years suspended for striking and killing Dyekman.

Since 1970 the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force has remembered innocent victims of DUI and honored law officers who excel at DUI enforcement. Every angel on that tree represents a life lost in Yellowstone County. Traditionally, the angel is added only after all criminal court proceedings related to the death have been completed.

The number of angels added annually has dropped over the years, but not enough. So far this year 60 Montana traffic fatalities are suspected to involve alcohol and other drugs are suspected to be factors in 44 deaths, according to the Montana Highway Patrol.

This time of year, with lots of holiday celebrations, there's extra emphasis on preventing drunken and drugged driving. Designated drivers, taxis, Ubers and trolleys are promoted. Officers volunteer for overtime DUI patrols. As a result, the streets may be bit safer during the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays. The DUI victims memorialized last week were struck down in May and October of 2018. There is no season that is safe from DUI so long as impaired drivers sit at the wheel.

Everyone can help prevent DUI. Don't drink and drive. Don't let friends, family or coworkers drive when impaired. Be the designated sober driver. Drive as if the New Year's Eve patrols are out every night of the year.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.