It’s been three years since Jawana Richardson said goodbye to her husband for the last time, but the sorrow of losing him is still fresh.
Sherman Richardson, 59, was hit and killed by a drunken driver on the Southern State Parkway on Dec. 5, 2014.
“The 20 years we were married were the happiest years of my life,” she said Sunday at the 36th annual Mothers Against Drunk Driving candlelight vigil at West Hollow Middle School in Melville.
Richardson, of Hempstead, was among more than 60 people gathered at the event dedicated to remembering loved ones injured and lost to drunken and impaired driving.
“It’s important that we keep our loved ones in our memories,” she said. “It makes us feel that we’re honoring them and we’re not forgetting them and . . . it gives us a sense of healing, that you’re here, you’re doing something.”
The tragedies of those in attendance spanned decades. Several people wept throughout the ceremony, as faces of the people who have been killed flashed on a screen before the audience.
Everyone was given an LED candle and asked to light it and stand when the name of their loved one was read aloud.
The event was a “formal outlet” for honoring lives lost, and for the survivors to support each other, Richardson said.
“For many of us, these events open up deep wounds which can be physically and emotionally draining,” she said. “No one knows the depth of our pain unless they have walked in our shoes.”
Richardson said her husband died when a drunken driver struck his car, propelling it into a tree. She said it took nine months before police found the driver, who was later sentenced to 14 to 30 years in prison. She called for tougher penalties for people who flee the scene of a collision.
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini echoed those sentiments when he spoke at the event, saying his office would push lawmakers in Albany to pass tougher laws — including one that would establish mandatory consecutive sentences for leaving the scene of a crash.
Drunken driving is “a decision that is deterable if we have the right legislation, if we aggressively pursue impaired drivers, aggressively prosecute impaired drivers, and most importantly, educate our young people,” Sini said, noting that Suffolk County police arrested 4,000 individuals on charges of impaired driving in 2016-2017.
“We currently have laws that incentivize leaving the scene of a car crash,” he said. “We need to fight together for legislation . . . with mandatory consecutive sentences for leaving the scene.”