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Truck ban on portion of 129 also supported

Knoxville News Sentinel August 19, 2005

In a meeting that rambled around the agenda, the commission also approved a resolution supporting a ban on all trucks with 16 or more wheels from a portion of U.S. Highway 129 from Chilhowee Lake to the North Carolina line.

The road section includes an 11-mile stretch known as The Dragon, which has 318 curves and is popular with motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts.

The proposed ban came from W.T. "Ted" Phillips, CEO of Phillips & Jordan Inc., a Knoxville construction company.

Phillips addressed commissioners Thursday night. He said he forbade his truck drivers from taking that route more than five years ago for safety reasons.

"Some of our trailers are 55 feet long," Phillips said. "There's no way you can drive that road and stay on your own side of the road."

Phillips, in an interview before the meeting, said his company has an office in Robbinsville , N.C. , at the other end of the stretch, an area where he is from.

His fear, he says, is that the people who come "from all over the country" to drive the road for recreational purposes will be killed or injured by coming around a curve too fast and slamming into a tractor-trailer that cannot negotiate the turn without crossing the center line.

Phillips said he sought the commission's support to bolster his efforts to have federal highway officials forbid the trucks.

"It's a safety hazard," Phillips said. In response to a question from Commissioner Steve Hargis, he admitted that taking an alternate route to Robbinsville nearly triples the mileage.

With the commission's vote, Phillips said he will take the issue to U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, who has promised to pursue it with federal highway officials.

Dragon claims victim
by Anna C. Irwin of The Daily Times Staff

An Illinois man was killed Saturday morning when his motorcycle wrecked on U.S. 129 less than a mile from the North Carolina line.

Jeremy M. Stuck, 31, of Dixon, Ill., died when his 2005 Kawasaki ZX-10R motorcycle slid on a curve half a mile from the state line and Stuck lost control. The motorcycle went into the oncoming lane and hit the front of a 2000 Toyota Tundra, then off into a ditch.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ron McDonald said the motorcycle was traveling toward the state line at 10 a.m. Saturday and the truck driven by Todd E. McKeehan of Robbinsville, N.C. was traveling into Blount County. McDonald said McKeehan, who pastors a church in Robbinsville, had his wife Melissa and 3-year-old daughter Abbey in the truck with him but no one in the vehicle was injured.

The trooper said Stuck apparently died on impact with the front of the truck. He said the Graham County, N.C., Ambulance Service, Rural/Metro Ambulance Service, and a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer responded to the accident scene. Stuck's body was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service.

The death is the 13th traffic fatality of the year in Blount County. The seven traffic fatalities since June 30 have all been individuals riding motorcycles.

Stuck's death is the third during that period on an 11-mile section of U.S. 129 known as the Dragon. The winding roadway features more than 300 curves and attracts motorcyclists from across the country. Two motorcyclists, one from Florida and the other from Maryland, were killed in accidents July 21 and July 22 on the Dragon.

Two motorcyclists die on Dragon
by Anna C. Irwin of The Daily Times Staff

Two people died in motorcycle accidents that happened a few miles and several hours apart on the Dragon, the winding 11-mile section of U.S. 129 between Tab Cat Creek and the North Carolina line.

The body of David Workman, 48, of Alva, Fla., was found Friday morning after his 14-year-old son Sergio, despite several broken bones, climbed 25 to 30 feet up an embankment to the roadside where a motorist saw the boy and called for help just after 11 a.m.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Phil Little said Workman was riding his 2005 BMW motorcycle up the mountain with his son as a passenger Thursday afternoon or evening. Little said it appeared he missed a curve and went off the road near the 10-mile marker. The motorcycle traveled about 30 feet down a steep embankment and struck a tree.

Workman and his son were vacationing with other family members in Western North Carolina and left Thursday afternoon to ride the Dragon. They were to have returned by 7 p.m. Thursday and were reported missing late Thursday.

The injured teenager was flown to University of Tennessee Medical Center by Lifestar and was listed in stable condition although suffering from the emotional trauma of his father's death and the night spent on the mountainside. Little said the youth had not been interviewed to determine what time the accident occurred.

Rural/Metro Ambulance Service and Blount County Volunteer Rescue Squad personnel used a system of ropes to retrieve Workman's body, which was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital.

At 1:15 p.m. Friday as the emergency responders completed the technical rescue/recovery, another motorcycle accident was reported near Mile Marker 8.

Little said a 2004 Buell motorcycle ridden by Jack Wolfe of Hagerstown, Md., went off the road on a curve, traveled about 100 feet down a steep embankment and landed against a tree.

Rescuers rushed the two miles from the recovery site of the first crash to the scene of the second, then launched another technical rescue effort using a system of ropes to lower paramedics to the critically injured man. It took almost an hour to bring the victim secured in a Stokes basket back to the roadside.

Friends said Wolfe had come to ride the Dragon to celebrate his birthday. He was 62 on Friday.

A Rural/Metro ambulance took Wolfe down the mountain a few miles to a landing zone set up near the Calderwood powerhouse by Blount County Sheriff's Office deputies. He was flown by Lifestar to UT Medical Center. He apparently died on the way to the hospital.

Spill at raceway; tractor getaway - Would-be racer overturns on track; someone escapes on farm tractor
by Iva Butler, of The Daily Times Staff

It started out as an ill-fated racetrack adventure in a pickup. Before it was over, someone succeeded in making a slow-speed getaway on a tractor.

A man and woman were traveling Friday at 3:17 p.m. on Crye Road when she decided to try out the track at Smokey Mountain Speedway.

According to the police report, officers responded to the track at 809 Brick Mill Road, Maryville, to the report of a motor vehicle accident. They found the woman, Dana Marie Cragin, 47, Hubbard Drive, Maryville, sitting on the ground beside a Toyota pickup, which was lying on its side.

She told officers she wanted to try out the track.

Witnesses at Smokey Mountain Speedway said the woman drove one lap around the track, but on lap two she hit the wall and the truck turned over.

According to the police report, she had a strong odor of an intoxicating beverage on her breath and slurred speech. The woman refused to consent to a blood alcohol test. She was charged with driving under the influence and criminal trespass.

One of the owners of the race track, Bill Garner, arrived at the scene before deputies arrived. He stated the man in the truck became combative, refused to stay until law enforcement arrived and fled the scene.

However, the man left his wallet behind in the truck identifying him as Dennis Maynard Kimsey, 47, Morganton Road, Maryville.

He fled into a field off Crye Road. While officers were searching for him, they heard a tractor start up in a nearby barn.

The barn owner went to the structure and reported his 1965 Massey Ferguson tractor had been stolen.

Deputies searched the area, but could not find Kimsey or the tractor.

The Knox County Sheriff's Office helicopter joined in the search for a time, but also was unable to locate the tractor.

Reverse 911 Center calls went out to neighbors in the area around Crye and Morganton roads. The calls asked people to be on the lookout ``for a red Massey Ferguson tractor with a yellow engine and a red sickle on the back.''

At about 8:22 p.m. that night Kimsey was located at his residence and taken into custody.

He was charged with criminal trespass and held for investigation in the theft of the tractor.

The tractor was located at a residence on Red Bud Valley Drive at the home of a friend of Kimsey, according to the police report. It was turned over to the owner.

Cragin was being held in lieu of $1,500 in bonds. Kimsey was free on a $750 bond. Both are scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m. July 20 in Blount County General Sessions Court.

`Weekend Warrior': Man reaches for next national cycling championship
2005-07-11, by Josh Tener, Daily Times Correspondent

While most men over 50 are starting to think about slowing down, saving for retirement, and whether they'll have grandchildren soon, David Hixson is thinking about winning his next cycling national championship.

Hixson, 55, of Farragut, has been cycling competitively for 16 years and has three Masters national championships and more than 100 wins under his belt. NOTE: Hixson is also leads the way on the annual Cherohala Challenge bicycle ride and uses the Dragon as a training ride.

Hixson got into the sport through competing in triathlons, which combine running, swimming and cycling.

``I started running competitively when I was 29,'' Hixson said.

Running then progressed into an interest in triathlons, where Hixson then discovered his enjoyment of competitive cycling. He became hooked on the sport and gradually stopped doing triathlons to concentrate on his new love.

For Hixson, cycling has been an avenue to both meet interesting and see many different parts of the country.

Hixson's past career with the Tennessee Valley Authority took him to St. Louis for a number of years where he was a member of a cycling team called The Spirits.

Most recently, Hixson was the winner of a Masters national championship in Park City, Utah on June 28. Hixson beat competitor Paul Mack in a close sprint to the finish to come away with his age group's road race title.

Winners of non-professional cycling championships are awarded various cash prizes, as well as a coveted Stars and Stripes racing jersey. The jersey, which resembles an American flag, gets a lot of attention from fellow cyclists at races.

``It's basically like wearing a gigantic target on your back,'' Hixson said with a laugh. ``Everyone is gunning for you and knows that you're a champ, and of course everyone wants to beat the champ.''

Hixson said that he only occasionally wears one of his three jerseys -- awarded for his three championships -- to a race. He notices his competition being much more fierce whenever he indicates he's a national champion.

Hixson proudly calls himself a ``weekend warrior,'' which is the nickname that many semi-professional athletes have taken.

Hixson spoke of the many challenges that face this type of athlete, such as the importance of balancing time. Hixson said that time was a big reason he decided to concentrate on one sport instead of having to concentrate on training for three to compete in triathlons.

``It's a tough thing to balance your career as an amateur athlete with your vocation and your family,'' Hixson said. ``It's something that all of us weekend warriors face.''

Blount sees series of motorcycle accidents
From Staff Reports

A 30-year-old Des Plains, Ill., man and a 56-year-old Florence, Ky., woman were seriously injured in a rash of motorcycle accidents Thursday.

The first accident was reported at 10:35 a.m., and Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers were dispatched to Foothills Parkway.

The first ranger on the scene found the victim in the parking area at Look Rock Overlook about 10 miles west of the parkway junction with East Lamar Alexander Parkway.

According to the Park Service, Mirel Pantus had been traveling on his 2001 Kawasaki westbound on the parkway when he crossed the center line and eastbound lanes, then struck the curb.

The bike dumped at that point and skidded 280 feet across the grass until it struck a parked, unoccupied 15-passenger van in the parking area.

The driver was conscious when the ranger arrived, but was apparently suffering from serious internal injuries, according to a press release from Park spokesman Bob Miller.

Rural/Metro Ambulance Service arrived on the scene at 10:52 a.m. and took the victim to the intersection of East Lamar Alexander Parkway and Foothills Parkway at Walland.

Lifestar landed at that intersection at 11:26 a.m. and flew Pantus to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he was listed in serious condition in the hospital's trauma intensive care unit.

Speed is suspected as a contributing cause of the accident, according to Miller.

Blount County Sheriff's Office was called to assist and spent three hours marking the accident scene. They will return next week to complete the accident reconstruction.

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers investigated three motorcycle accidents on or near the section of U.S. 129 known as the Dragon.

Trooper Lowell Russell responded at 3:30 p.m. to Calderwood Power Plant Road off U.S. 129, where Judith D. Heiss had wrecked her 2003 Suzuki motorcycle. Russell said she went off the right side of the road on a curve, down an embankment and struck a tree. She was flown to UT Medical Center by Lifestar, admitted and listed in serious condition.

At 4:02 p.m. THP Sgt. Danny Thomas answered a call to Mile Marker 8 on the Dragon where a 2005 Honda Goldwing operated by David Diveley, 57, of Dixon, Ill., went off the road and down a 60-foot embankment. Rural/Metro Ambulance Service, Blount County Fire Department and Blount County Volunteer Rescue Squad brought the victim up to the road and he was flown to UT Medical Center by Lifestar. Diveley was treated in the emergency room and released Thursday evening.

Russell investigated an accident reported at 5:07 p.m. Thursday about halfway between Mile Markers 9 and 10 on U.S. 129. Russell said a 2001 Honda CBM operated by Aaron M. Hafferty, 23, of Machesney Park, Ill., went off the road on a curve. Hafferty was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service, treated in the emergency room and released.

At least two more accidents involving motorcycles occurred Thursday, but details of the accidents were not available Thursday evening.

Bikers cruise into town

Rally expects to draw 18,000 riders who will spend nearly $16.5M
June 22, 2005

Some come to challenge The Dragon, that sinuous stretch of highway that follows the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Some just enjoy showing off their rides.

But all of the thousands of motorcyclists arriving this week for the annual Honda Hoot are looking forward to having a good time.

The Hoot - the nation's second-largest, multibrand motorcycle rally - kicks off today and runs through Saturday.

The event hosted by the Honda Rider's Club of America expects to draw more than 18,000 bikers this year, a figure the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. said is up from two years ago. This is the fifth year Knoxville has hosted the Hoot.

Matthew Seaman, tourism spokesman, said the motorcyclists would use 15-20 hotels in the Knoxville area, particularly downtown and the Strawberry Plains and Cedar Bluff areas.

Patronizing stores, malls and restaurants, the large tourism influx adds up to a significant economic impact for the city. This year Knoxville leaders expect to see $16.5 million in direct spending, or money spent directly in the community during the event.

"We think they're great," said Mayor Bill Haslam. "Not only do they have a large economic impact, they're a great group to have in town, and we hope to have them come back for years to come."

Since its move to Knoxville from Asheville, N.C., the Hoot has generated more than $47 million for the city and East Tennessee economies.

The Hoot drew about 1,200 people its first year in Asheville, said HRCA manager Charles Keller. Knoxville's ability to handle larger crowds makes it ideal for today's events, he said.

This year, the list of manufacturer demo programs includes Honda, Aprilia, BMW, Buell, Moto Guzzi, Piaggio, Ural, Vespa and Victory.

Along with a variety of daily activities that encompass everything from demo rides to a riverboat cruise to breakfast on the Star of Knoxville are specific events.

Today's events include a Poker Run benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, the Cherohala Skyway ride, an ice cream social and a Knoxville Police Department riding exhibition. There will be a firefighters' chili cook-off and dinner benefiting the Knoxville Fire Department prevention fund early this evening and then an Old City street party tonight.

Bikers began rumbling into the city as early as Monday.

Gary Warner and Tina Specht, both of Philadelphia, Pa., waited outside the host hotel Knoxville Marriott on Tuesday for 14 members of their Honda Rider's Club of American chapter to arrive.

"This 600 miles was nothing," said Warner, standing before his aquamarine Gold Wing motorcycle.

For Warner, who wants to ride the coiling, twisted Dragon section of U.S. Highway 129, it's his second year back.

"If you hear about the Hoot, you have to come to the Hoot," said Specht. This year's event is her first.

`Hands Across the Border' event promotes safety belt awareness
by Anna C. Irwin of The Daily Times Staff

State and local law enforcement officials will kick off the ``Hands Across the Border'' campaign in East Tennessee at noon today on Calderwood Highway (U.S. 129) alongside Chilhowee Lake.

``Hands Across the Border'' is designed to bring awareness to this year's national ``Click It or Ticket'' mobilization.

For the first time, agencies in Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri are joining forces with the Volunteer State in a pledge to actively enforce safety belt laws, increase safety patrols, and conduct sobriety checkpoints during the heavily traveled summer months.

The keynote speaker for today's event will be Chuck Taylor, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office. Others planning to attend include Tennessee Department of Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips, Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Lynn Pitts, and Blount County Sheriff James Berrong.

The location for the event -- a gravel pull-off area near the intersection with Foothills Parkway -- was chosen because of its proximity to the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 129 with 318 curves.

The stretch of roadway leading into North Carolina is a favorite among motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts from all over the world. However, Berrong said, this stretch of pavement claims lives and causes serious injuries to motorists because of its dangerous curves, high speeds and reckless actions of some of the motorists.

The Dragon is ripe for tourism development

It was millions of years in the making. It is stunning with its steep mountainsides and lush foliage. And it's a heck of a hard haul if you have to cross it on foot, which is how Native Americans first traversed the pathway now known as the Tail of the Dragon.

Or as most call it, simply the Dragon.

The key word is ``known.'' Google the Tail of the Dragon on the Internet and you'll find 791,000 sites listed. The Dragon's 11 miles and 318 curves on U.S. 129 from Tabcat Creek on Calderwood Highway to Deal's Gap just over the North Carolina line is famous in motorcycle and sports car circles and infamous to truckers.

That fame extends beyond U.S. borders. When Mini Cooper enthusiasts had their most recent run on the Dragon, participants came from Europe and as far away as Australia.

It's not in an amusement park. There are no neon signs, no billboards announcing it, but the Dragon is basically a thrill ride for grown-ups.

The Wakin' the Dragon motorcycle rally held last weekend at Smoky Mountain Speedway and Punkin Center Campground is one more example of the road's compelling attraction.

There is a history. Settlers used the path through Deal's Gap to travel on Parsons Branch Road to Cades Cove. Around 1930, the trail was graded and for the first time could legitimately be called a road. It was named U.S. 129 when it was paved in 1934.

Its future was set in the end of the 20th century when the Dragon was discovered by motorcyclists and became legendary to sports car clubs.

The road also claims its own legends. Like the story circa the late 1940s or early '50s of the missing motorcycle rider and his girlfriend. They supposedly drove off the road, slipped down a steep slope and were trapped under their bike. The man was killed in the crash, but the woman, unable to get out from under the motorcycle, lived for three days. It took rescuers a week to find them.

There's supposed to be a grave of a Civil War soldier buried near the twisted highway. Ghosts rumored to haunt the area date to an era when a landowner whose property was traversed by the ancient trail demanded a toll from travelers. His penalty for those who tried to sneak by without paying was a rather final solution: hanging.

Whatever the Dragon's past, it's future seems clear. The Tail of the Dragon may be the most fun place to ride a motorcycle or drive a sports car in the world. It's already built, and people will come.

So will business. Does anyone think one of the country's premier Harley dealerships, Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson on West Lamar Alexander Parkway, would be here if it weren't for the Dragon?

Tourism is big business and the enthusiasm for motorcycles is growing and maturing. There's something about the freedom and thrill of riding a bike on the open road that captures the essence of America.

Blount County would be wise, through businesses and with the help of promoters of tourism, to be a friendly destination to visitors who come to experience the Dragon. Let's help them have fun, and let's keep it safe. But please, be careful out there. Let the lasting tale of the Dragon be one of good times and happy memories.

Easy ride - Dragon parade goes smoothly
by Iva Butler of The Daily Times Staff

A show of force by law enforcement and emergency services apparently resulted in a quieter than normal Saturday for motorcyclists riding the Tail of the Dragon.

Part of the reason may be that there were Tennessee Highway Patrolmen stationed every two miles in the area of the Dragon and a THP helicopter was used to monitor the situation.

A Wakin' the Dragon Parade started around 9 a.m. at Smoky Mountain Speedway, went up Calderwood Highway and continued past Chilhowee Lake to the Dragon with its 11 miles and 318 curves to Deals Gap.

On the way, riders passed a parking area that served as a command post for a bevy of law enforcement and emergency services.

Trooper Danny Thomas said after the riders had passed that there were 12 THP officers on hand ``for safety purposes. We wanted to make sure the ride went good. If there happened to be a wreck, we were there to make a quick response.''

THP officers came from Blount, Monroe and Knox counties, in addition to motorcycle officers from Chattanooga and Campbell County.

Ron Dunn, Blount County Sheriff's Office chief deputy, said Blount County would have officers stationed in the Chilhowee Lake vicinity until 11 p.m. Saturday and THP would be there until 1 a.m. Sunday.

Rob Webb, Rural/Metro emergency services director, said an ambulance and an additional supervisor were added at Chilhowee Lake and another ambulance was stationed at Greenback Fire Department to be able to respond quickly if there was an emergency at the speedway.

Webb and Dunn were both pleased with how well things went on the Dragon Saturday, but there were serious wrecks in other areas including on Brick Mill Road and on Tenn. 72 off U.S. 411 South in Loudon County.

Speaking of traffic on the Dragon, Webb said, ``Things went very well. There were no kind of real issues. ... It seemed like a slower day than normal up there.''

Dunn agreed: ``The Dragon was extremely safe. There were no real problems at all.''

Thomas said storms on Friday may have been a factor. ``I think the weather cut down on parade participants.''

In addition to the bikers, there was also a rally of Nissan sports car drivers, the Z Car Club, motoring on the Dragon and other area roads.

At the command post

At the command post were Blount County Sheriff's Office with its mobile command post, Blount Rescue Squad, Rural/Metro Ambulance Service, a Blount County Explorer Post and Butler's Wrecker Service.

That part of the county is in Butler's wrecker zone and they brought two trucks to the command post in case a wreck occurred during or after the parade. According to the dispatcher for the wrecker service, Saturday was a quiet day on the Dragon.

``The THP was responsible for the stretch of highway from Calderwood Dam to the state line, and we were responsible from the dam to the speedway,'' said Dunn.

``We were on hand in support of the Tennessee Highway Patrol,'' he added. ``They were the primary law enforcement agency. We just wanted to help make everything safe.''

More than 100 motorcycles made up the Wakin' the Dragon Parade on Saturday morning. There had been speculation earlier that the number could reach thousands. Dunn said the lower-than-expected attendance was likely due to the heavy rains.

``I'm sure the weather killed them. I think the event will grow over time,'' he said.

Blount County Rescue Squad Chief Ken Shelton said he had seven regular squad members on hand, as well as the technical rescue team, which would help if any drivers went off the mountain road. Shelton said also there was the support and logistic team to make sure there was food and water for the emergency personnel.

Planning for year two

Garner said he was disappointed with the weather on Friday but very happy about Saturday.

``The Thursday night cloudburst killed us on Friday. After it cleared off, people started to come in steadily,'' he said.

Saturday before the contests began around 3:30 p.m. -- best dressed motorcycle., bikini, men in chaps, wet T-shirt -- a steady stream of bikes, cars and trucks began to arrive.

Some of the contests had been scheduled for Friday, but had to be put off because of the rain.

``We will probably not make a profit our first year. We had to build the stage and do electronic upgrades to host the event,'' Garner said.

Nevertheless, he did say the event will be back next year.

Garner hopes in 2006 he will get more big sponsors, like Good Times Yamaha and Tennessee Motor Sports this year.

This first year there were 59 vendors scattered inside the racetrack, selling T-shirts, jewelry, food and drinks, along with leather goods and chrome for motorcycles.

The rally drew people from several states, as well as Canada.

Parson Branch Road work scheduled for relief


by Thomas Fraser Of The Daily Times Staff

Parson Branch Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been closed more than open during the past 10 years, but plans to make the latest repairs to the long-suffering road are under way.

The road, a narrow, one-lane mountain lane that was once one of only two main routes into Cades Cove, was last closed in 2003, following a massive rainstorm that washed out numerous stretches of the road. In some sections, a creek now flows permanently down the middle of the primitive Park road.

But relief is on the way for those who want once again to make the low-speed automobile jaunt from Cades Cove to Calderwood Highway.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Public Information Officer Bob Miller said the Park is poised to enter into an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration that could see the road repaired and reopened by spring of 2007.

The ``bulk of the work,'' said Miller, is to rebuild the roadbed, ``particularly the first four miles. There are numerous washed-out sections where Parson Branch is in the middle of the road now.''

The project will cost about $1 million, Miller said, and will be funded by the Park. Some $3 million in emergency federal funds were appropriated for the Park in 2003 and 2004, in the wake of major rainfalls and hurricane damage. Miller said he was uncertain whether the Park would be able tap any of those funds for repair of Parson Branch Road, however.

He said the Park hopes to have a contract in place by fall 2006.

The road has a checkered history in recent years. In 2004, a rainstorm caused massive damage to the road, and the Park pursued an Environmental Assessment to determine, in part, whether the road should be reopened at all.

``We looked at the possibility of closing it permanently in 1996,'' Miller said. The public response indicated the road should be repaired and reopened. Members of the public, Miller said, enjoyed the ``low-speed primitive road,'' which he said offers ``a very intimate experience in the forest.''

The road was finally repaired and reopened in 1998, ``four years to the month'' after it was washed out by flooding rainstorms.

In May 2003, a similar series of flooding rains again washed out the road, and it has been closed to traffic ever since.

``We're not revisiting whether we want that road reopened,'' Miller said. Work will proceed as soon as a contract is in place.

The road was once referred to as Parson Turnpike, which with Rich Mountain Road was one of only two thoroughfares into Cades Cove.

That's not the only major road project set for the Park in coming years. All of Newfound Gap Road is expected to be resurfaced by the end of the decade. The Park will repave the North Carolina section of the road first, from Newfound Gap to Collins Creek. The second phase will be to repave the road from Collins Creek to Cherokee. Those sections have not been repaved since 1979. Work on the North Carolina sections will take about 18 months and cost up to $15 million. The project is out for bid now, and work could begin as soon as this summer.

The next phase of the repaving project will involve the Tennessee side of Newfound Gap Road. That work is not expected to be complete until 2010.

Motorcyclists critical after accident - Florida couple airlifted from U.S. 129
by Darren Dunlap of The Daily Times Staff

A Florida motorcyclist and his passenger were in critical condition at the University of Tennessee Medical Center Monday after a crash on U.S. 129.

The motorcycle crash happened Monday afternoon on ``The Dragon,'' an 11-mile section of the highway between Tab Cat Creek and the North Carolina state line. The Dragon is popular with motorcyclists because of its many curves.

Pensacola, Fla., residents Thomas J. Strassheim, 55, and wife, Sharon Strassheim, 51, were traveling southbound and negotiating a curve on U.S. 129 when he hit a rock, lost control of his 2001 Harley Davidson and hit an embankment, according to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report.

The Strassheims were airlifted by Lifestar to UT Medical Center. The Blount County Sheriff's Office assisted the THP.

The Monday crash is the fifth one on The Dragon since Friday. There were three motorcycle crashes on Friday, and the fourth happened about 1 p.m. Saturday and involved Edmund Ware, 51, Taylor, S.C., and wife, Sylvia Ware, 46.

They were traveling north on the U.S. 129 when Edmund Ware wrecked his 2004 Honda Shadow.

The South Carolina couple was airlifted by Lifestar to UT Medical Center where they were listed in stable condition on Monday evening.

Lifestar busy in Blount
by Anna C. Irwin of The Daily Times Staff

Three injured motorcyclists were airlifted from U.S. 129 Friday by Lifestar and two more on Saturday. Almost all the crashes occurred on the Dragon, the 11-mile section of the highway between Tab Cat Creek and the North Carolina state line famous in motorcycling circles for its 318 curves.

Tail of the Dragon Web site at reported in its news section posted Saturday morning that there were ``at least five accidents on or near the Dragon'' Friday with four people taken to hospitals, three of them airlifted due to the severity of their injuries.

According to Tail of the Dragon, ``BCSO (Blount County Sheriff's Office) began a stricter enforcement in the afternoon (on Friday) -- and we can't blame them. If you are coming to the Dragon this weekend, we advise you to ride safe and within the law.''

According to the Web site, motorcyclists who ride Suzuki's Hyabusa model were gathering at Robbinsville, N.C., for Busa Bash III, an event which included rides throughout the area including the Dragon.

Sheriff James Berrong confirmed that he put extra officers on the winding highway Friday afternoon, funding the extra patrol with some of the money from a highway safety grant. He said efforts to keep motorcyclists and other motorists who use U.S. 129 safe will continue. He also said he appreciates the safety messages displayed on the Web site and hopes riders take heed.

At 11:15 a.m. Friday, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ernest Marion responded to a motorcycle crash on U.S. 129 about a mile from the Monroe County line. Martin said Tomas Hradil, 30, of Chicago was thrown off his bike on a curve and the motorcycle caught fire.

Rural/Metro Ambulance Service paramedics determined that Hradil's injuries appeared serious enough to require airlifting him to University of Tennessee Medical Center by Lifestar. He was treated in the emergency room and had been released Saturday evening.

At 12:06 p.m. Friday, Blount County Sheriff's deputies investigated a crash on U.S. 129 near the Tennessee/North Carolina line. Paul J. Sisilli, 42, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was headed northbound down the Dragon when he lost control of his Suzuki Hyabusa motorcycle and went into a ditch.

Again, Rural/Metro Ambulance Service paramedics called for Lifestar to take Sisilli to UT Hospital. He was listed in stable condition Saturday.

Shortly before 2 p.m. Friday, Trooper Bryan Martin responded to a motorcycle crash near the 6-mile marker on the Dragon. He said James Henry III, 35, of Georgia was negotiating a curve when he lost control and went off a 15-foot embankment. Henry was also airlifted to UT hospital, treated and later released.

Around 1 p.m. Saturday, Trooper Brent Cagle investigated a motorcycle crash on the Dragon that sent both people aboard the bike to UT hospital by Lifestar. Details of the accident and names of the victims were not available Saturday evening.

In addition to the three motorcycle accidents Friday requiring the services of Lifestar, the medical evacuation helicopter responded to Blount County two more times, picking up someone injured in a horseback riding accident near Tremont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at a landing zone in Townsend and transporting a man injured in a lawnmower accident at Walland.

The five Lifestar trips to Blount County is believed to be a record number of responses here in a single day.

Motorcycle crash victim upgraded to serious condition
(NOTE: This accident did NOT occur on the Dragon, but near the US129/SR336 intersection just 13 miles from the Dragon on the TN side.)
March 23, 2005
by Anna C. Irwin of The Daily Times Staff

A Knoxville man critically injured in a motorcycle crash on Sunday was upgraded to serious condition on Tuesday but remains in the intensive care unit at University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The accident happened on Calderwood Highway (U.S. 129) about half a mile past Six Mile Road, a location known as Dead Man's Curve, at 3:03 p.m. Sunday.

According to Trooper Matt Fagiana of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, 29-year-old Michael A. Long was traveling toward Maryville on a 2001 Yamaha sports motorcycle. He was riding with a friend, 21-year-old Derrick May of Knoxville.

May told Fagiana that he and Long were traveling about 90 miles an hour with Long about six bike lengths back when they went into the curve. Long's motorcycle apparently drifted into the on-coming traffic lane on the curve and struck a 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport head-on.

Frederick Plemmons, of Daisey Circle, Maryville, was at the wheel of the Jeep with his wife, Joyce, in the front passenger seat. They said Long hit the windshield of the Jeep, then was thrown approximately 40 feet by the impact. The Plemmons were not injured.

Fagiana said Long was unconscious and obviously had extensive injuries when he reached him. Rural/Metro Ambulance Service paramedics began life-saving efforts while a Lifestar medical evacuation helicopter flew to the scene and sat down in a landing zone established by Blount County Sheriff's deputies.

Long was taken to UT Medical Center and admitted to the trauma intensive care unit where he was initially listed in critical condition.

Fagiana said Long's driver license listed an address in Greeneville but he was told the injured man now lives in Knoxville. The trooper said May told him this is the second time Long has been severely injured in an motorcycle accident.

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