THE DRAGON IN PRINT NEWS 2007:
THP kicks up patrols on Dragon
By Iva Butler of The Daily Times Staff

Tennessee Highway Patrol officers wrote 142 tickets for motorcycle and car violations on the Dragon last weekend in a crackdown promised to extend through September.

The tickets, 92 for motorcycles and 50 for cars, included tickets for violations such as speeding, registration, driver’s licenses, helmet law, lane violations and riding standing up.

The Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office provided $60,000 for overtime enforcement on the Dragon, where three motorcyclists have been killed in Blount County this year.

The Dragon refers to the 11.1-mile stretch of U.S. 129 which runs from Tabcat Creek to Deal’s Gap at the Tennessee and North Carolina line. Known worldwide as a premier ride for motorcyclists, the section of roadway has 318 curves.

Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Highway Patrol had 11 troopers enforcing traffic safety laws on the Dragon, said Trooper John Pedigo,

Today through Sunday, THP is expected to have two or three cars working that stretch of road. Pedigo said the increased enforcement will run every weekend through the end of September. Several Dragon motorcyclists complained and called the THP blitz harassment.

Herb Handly, executive vice president for tourism of Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, said “apparently bikers on the Dragon have taken a dim view of having increased enforcement.”

Handly said the governor has taken a dim view of having Lifestar helicopters called so often to transport injured motorcyclists off the Dragon.

“Some people are speeding and driving recklessly, so the governor had THP go in force over the weekend,” he said.

Apparently numerous people have e-mailed the governor, correspondence that was forwarded to Tennessee Commissioner of Tourism Susan Whittaker.

“People have canceled or been threatening cancellations of travel plans to this area,” Handly said.

“We certainly understand safety issues having to deal with that area. We think safety should be a high priority. We are encouraging people to use care and caution in that area and remind them we have a variety of rides besides the Dragon that are safe and enjoyable,” Handly said.

Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau has a brochure, called Circle the Smokies, that lists a variety of routes from Townsend that motorcyclists might want to consider, he said.

“They might want to stay away from The Dragon until this enforcement blitz is over,” Handly said.

After spill cleared, Dragon reopens
From The Daily Times Staff Reports

After crews cleaned up nearly 40,000 pounds of spilled newspaper on the Dragon, the 11.1-mile-long stretch of Calderwood Highway reopened to motorists Friday after being closed since Wednesday.

The accident happened when a tractor-trailer driven by William Horne, 44, Barnesville, Ga., apparently took a turn too sharply at about 1:50 p.m., which caused the truck to tip onto its side and spill the load — 38,000 pounds of recycled newspaper heading from Knoxville to Dublin, Ga. The truck is owned by Truck Inc., of Conley, Ga.

Authorities say they shut down the winding stretch of road because the accident left the highway unsafe for travel. It had been closed from Foothills Parkway to the North Carolina border while crews cleaned up the newspaper and repaired damage done to the road in the accident.

The stretch of road was reopened to traffic at about 5 p.m. Friday.

After the accident, Horne was taken by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service to Blount Memorial Hospital where, according to authorities, he was treated for minor injuries and released.

The Dragon boasts 318 curves and stretches from Tabcat Creek to Deals Gap at the Tennessee-North Carolina border.

Truck with newspapers turns over on Dragon; road closed
By Jessica Stith, of The Daily Times Staff

A tractor-trailer turned over, pouring out thousands of pounds in newspapers onto the Dragon on Wednesday afternoon, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol was unsure when the road would reopen.

THP Trooper John Pedigo said William Horne, 44, Barnesville, Ga., was driving a tractor-trailer southbound between mile markers six and seven on the stretch of Calderwood Highway known as the Dragon at about 1:50 p.m. and was rounding a curve.
The Dragon is the 11.1-mile section of U.S. 129 from Tabcat Creek to Deals Gap at the Tennessee-North Carolina line. There are 318 curves on that stretch of road.

Pedigo said the driver “cut the curve too short,” causing the back trailer tandems to slide off the right side of the road.
The truck tractor and semi-trailer then turned over on its right side, Pedigo said. When it turned over, the trailer slid off the embankment with the truck still lying across the roadway.

The truck, owned by Truck Inc., of Conley, Ga., was carrying 38,000 pounds of recycled newspaper from Knoxville to Dublin, Ga. Pedigo said chunks of pavement were taken out of the road when the tractor-trailer wrecked and that the highway was unsafe for drivers.

He said the road would be closed from the Foothills Parkway to the state line until the trailer can be removed and the road can be repaired, but was unsure how long it would take. It was still closed on Thursday.

Pedigo said motorists, including an injured motorcyclist, were unable to get through due to the commercial vehicle’s wreck and spill.
Horne was taken by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service to Blount Memorial Hospital where he was treated for minor injuries and released, Pedigo said.

Mastering the mythical monster
Dragon one wild stretch of road that can thrill, chill, kill
By Ansley Haman , Knoxville News Sentinel
Sunday, July 29, 2007

DEALS GAP, N.C. — Kevin Tillinghast lifted the remains of his rearview mirror from beneath the scratched, red sport bike.

The broken metal became the Indiana man’s offering to the Dragon, a spiny section of Southern road named for its resemblance to the back of the mythical monster.

“This is my ‘Tree of Shame’ ornament,” he told three buddies as they snapped photos of the ditch crash scene on one of the more than 310 curves in the 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 129 that ties Tennessee to North Carolina.

Tillinghast donated the mirror to a shrine to Dragon spills — a part-covered sweet gum tree at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in Graham County, N.C. Pieces of helmets, gloves, Big Wheels, engine parts and boots hang from its trunk and branches.

“It’s our safety reminder to folks,” said resort owner Brad Talbott. “This is a conglomeration of parts from years and years.”

The collection grows annually as tens of thousands of motorcyclists and car enthusiasts from across the globe make pilgrimages to the Dragon.

Tillinghast, a single drop of blood spilling down his mud-caked arm, was lucky. Some riders — mostly from out of state — begin on the Dragon and end up in the emergency room.

In the first 11 miles of Tennessee’s portion of the road, the Tennessee Highway Patrol reported at least 29 crashes by July 1 this year. Three people died within a week this month.

Hairpin turns lure many to the Dragon. Wipeouts ensure some never come back.

The Dragon's draw

The winding, green-canopied highway along the Little Tennessee River gorge has been popular among locals for decades. The Internet has broadened its appeal.

Ron Johnson, a retired firefighter from South Florida, first drove the Dragon in the mid-1970s on a family trip through the mountains.

“I’ve loved the Dragon from the first time I went over it, even in a family car,” he said.

He and his wife, Nancy Johnson, chose to retire in Graham County because they liked the area. In 2000 they bought bikes. The couple quickly noticed other riders’ interest in pins, patches and T-shirts.

The Johnsons began selling souvenirs and formed a Web site, www.tailofthedragon.com. It contains safety information, tourism suggestions and maps drawn by Ron Johnson. At first, the site received five or six hits a month, he said. Now, it is up to about 1.5 million unique hits a year.

The Johnsons’ business isn’t the only one booming.

“This was a fried bologna and cheese sandwich shop 30 years ago,” Talbott said of his motorcycle resort, which now has an eight-week waiting list for rooms.

Ben Steinberg, resort manager, said the Dragon is a worldwide destination now with groups from Brazil, Eastern Europe, North Africa and Israel.

Paige Huston, a motorcycle safety instructor from Burgin, Ky., comes to ride as many as 11 weekends a year.

She met her boyfriend, fellow sportbiker Mike “P.J.” Pijanka, on the Dragon. Their helmets feature matching Mohawks. They plan to move close to the road when Pijanka’s children finish school.

Part of the road’s appeal is the camaraderie between sport bikers and cruisers, Huston said.

“Everybody interfaces,” Talbott said. “They’ll switch out bikes in the parking lot.”

Visitors are almost evenly split between riders of sport bikes and cruisers, Johnson said. People come to ride the Dragon as early as March if the weather is good, he said. He sets up his souvenir stand from April to October.

At least 60 group motorcycle and car events are scheduled on the Dragon this year, according to the Deals Gap and Tail of the Dragon Web sites. In June, Honda Hoot drew more than 10,000 riders to the road on one weekend.

“It’s the best road in the country,” Huston said.

Wiping out

Trauma nurses at the University of Tennessee Medical Center say they prepare for the weekend by checking Dragon Web sites for big events.

Some keep buttons that say, “I survived ‘Beat the Dragon’ weekend.” Two years ago, Shelia Duncan, emergency services nurse manager at the medical center, and some co-workers made the badges after treating a number of motorcycle crash victims injured in one weekend event.

Lifestar, UT’s aeromedical service, frequently picks up riders at the ends of the Dragon. UT’s trauma unit is a destination for many victims.

Helicopters try to get patients to the trauma surgeons within a “golden hour,” said Lifestar Outreach Coordinator J.R. Gore. The drive from the Dragon takes about 45 minutes. The chopper flight is 10-12 minutes.

This year the Blount County Rescue Squad created a satellite substation at the Punkin Center Motorcycle Resort near the roadway’s Blount County end to reduce response times, said Chief Tommy Bowers.

Gore said there’s been a marked increase in motorcycle transports in the last five years.

Most victims end up on spine boards. Some are combative. Some are unconscious.

“The greatest thing we see is head injuries in our motorcycle crashes,” said Brian J. Daley, a UT trauma surgeon.

Injuries to lower extremities are also common, and many riders lose layers of skin to road rash if they aren’t wearing Kevlar or leathers, Daley said.

Treating a motorcycle victim’s broken leg costs about $50,000. That includes the airlift, treatment and hospitalization for three days, according to estimates from Daley and Rhonda McAnally, UT trauma coordinator. The figure doesn’t account for multiple injuries or a stay in intensive care.

While many motorcyclists riding expensive bikes have insurance, Daley said the hospital generally absorbs costs of caring for those without it.

Driver error is a common cause of Dragon crashes, he said. The speed limit for most of the roadway is 30 mph, which still proves difficult for some riders.

“It’s usually not the people who are from here,” McAnally said. “They (locals) realize how windy the roads are.”

Riding safely

Many regulars of the twisting road say they appreciate police patrols, so long as their efforts don’t turn to bullying or targeting only motorcycles.

“The presence is beneficial for the 5 percent who still think this is a racetrack,” Talbott said.

Earlier this month the state’s Governor’s Highway Safety Office granted the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Blount County Sheriff’s Office about $60,000 each to step up patrols on the Dragon through the end of September.

“We’re not trying to keep people from riding this road. We’re trying to keep people from riding this road illegally,” said Kendell Poole, director of the safety office. “You’re talking about saving lives. There’s no price on that.”

In one of the first weeks of the new campaign, one motorcycle and two three-wheeled motorcycle riders died in two accidents on back-to-back days.

Last year, there were 124 Tennessee Highway Patrol-reported crashes and two fatalities between miles one and 11. Of those crashes, 99 involved motorcycles and 50 involved cars. Drivers were from at least 15 states and two countries.

“When you get a mix of that many motorcycles and that many cars, it’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Sgt. Randall Ailey, head of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic safety unit.

THP Capt. Raymond Fletcher said the recent spike in crashes “is a strain to local emergency services for 11 miles of Blount County.”

While eliminating fatalities is the state’s goal, the greater challenge is reducing the high number of wrecks with serious injury, Ailey said.

Ailey wants to reduce the Dragon’s cost in terms of crashes and hospital bills, but his purpose is not to stop people from legally enjoying themselves on the road.

The Blount County officer loves the stretch of highway.

Some summer afternoons he finds himself rambling down the Dragon’s spine on a motorcycle.

Dragon a surprise to truckers
Dangerous curves catchsome off guard; officialsuggests more warning
By Ansley Haman
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Trucking magazines warn drivers about the twisting tail of the Dragon.

But some truckers unknowingly guide their rigs to the roadway before realizing that there is nowhere to turn around and no way to stay in a single lane through the curves.

Truck drivers who choose to drive the road are rarely aware of the curvy nature of U.S. Highway 129, said Ron Johnson, co-owner of www.tailofthedragon.com. An average of one or two drivers attempt to navigate the road each day.

“It’s a straight line on the maps,” he said.

Sgt. Randall Ailey, head of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic safety unit, said he has seen tractor-trailers “come through every curve from the state line to the bottom blowing their horns.”

Though there are posted warning signs, Ailey said there could be more.

Johnson’s wife, Nancy Johnson, led one driver from Tennessee to North Carolina on the road. The driver thanked her through tears.

Ben Steinberg, manager of Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, said he and other staffers frequently lead drivers of 18-wheelers across the mountain, slowing traffic and stopping other drivers so that the trailers can clear the curves.

Both Ailey and Tennessee Highway Patrol Capt. Raymond Fletcher said they had looked into having tractor-trailers banned from the road, but they cannot because the Dragon is part of a federal highway.


Three killed on Dragon in two day (update from articles below), July 14, 2007
From The Daily Times Staff and Wire Reports

Three people have died in two days in motorcycle accidents on a dangerous stretch of highway called the Dragon that twists through the Smoky Mountains.

A couple from Ocala, Fla., were killed Friday when the driver apparently took a curve on U.S. 129 too quickly and lost control, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ernest Marion said. They were identified Saturday as Warren, 72, and Carol Woodruff. Carol Woodruff’s age was not available.

The pair were riding on a Honda trike motorcycle, which hit a car hauling a large boat on a trailer. The accident knocked the 5,000-pound boat off the trailer, and the couple became trapped under it, authorities said. The road was closed for more than three hours as authorities removed the wreckage.

A Michigan man died Thursday on the same road after he lost control of his motorcycle and slid off an 80-foot cliff in the Smoky Mountain foothills.
Kevin James Hoyt, 40, of Highland, Mich., braked too hard while taking a curve, and his bike slid off the highway and over the cliff into some woods, Marion said.

The trooper said speed was not a factor in the accident, and Hoyt was wearing a helmet.

Two die on Dragon, July 14, 2007
By Mark Boxley of The Daily Times Staff

The treacherous curves of the Dragon claimed two more lives Friday as a pair of people from Florida were killed in a wreck that closed the road for more than three hours.

It was the second fatal accident on the road in two days.

A man and a woman were riding on a three-wheeled Honda motorcycle, known as a trike, when they apparently took a curve of northbound Calderwood Highway (U.S. 129, commonly known as the Dragon) too quickly and lost control, said Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ernest Marion.

The pair then hit a Toyota Land Cruiser with a large boat on a trailer driven by John Stanley Hitch, 53, Maryville, that was coming up the hill in the southbound lane. The accident took place between Mile Markers 2 and 3 on Calder-
wood Highway.

The impact was so severe that it nearly knocked the 5,000-pound boat completely off the trailer. The couple on the trike were trapped under the boat and trailer after the accident.

The name of the pair was not released Friday pending notification of their family members.

Another motorcycle rider, Bret Akers, 45, Lincolnton, N.C., wrecked when he hit the overturned trike. He was injured, but refused treatment, Marion said.

Speed was a factor in the accident, he said.

Agee Lequire, Philadelphia, was driving a truck with a horse trailer just seconds behind the trike on northbound Calderwood Highway. The accident had happened moments before when he pulled up and Hitch flagged him down.

Lequire said he tried to assist the two riders of the Honda trike, but when he got to them under the trailer and boat, it was too late.
“(The wreck) was too much,” he said. “There’s just nothing you can do to help someone in that kind of condition.”

Cell phone coverage in the area is spotty at best, and Lequire could not get a signal to call 911. Of the other motorists at the scene of the accident, someone was finally to get through and contacted emergency personnel at 5:59 p.m.

Once on the scene, it took emergency personnel and tow truck workers more than an hour to move the boat and other debris enough to remove the bodies of the victims from the scene.

Along with THP, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Blount County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Rural/Metro Ambulance Service and an ambulance from Graham County, N.C., responded to the accident.

Thursday victim ID’d

Friday’s accident followed by one day the fatal accident that involved a motorcycle rider from Michigan losing control of his bike on a curve on the Dragon and sliding to his death over an 80-foot cliff.

The man killed in the motorcycle wreck at 6:52 p.m. Thursday on Calderwood Highway was identified by authorities Friday as Kevin James Hoyt, 40, Highland, Mich.

According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol accident report, Hoyt was southbound on the highway when he lost control in a curve and slid down an embankment.

He “low sided” his bike by applying too much braking pressure on the front wheel while taking the curve, according to Trooper Marion, who also responded to that wreck.

Hoyt then slid with the bike over the edge of the highway, down an 80-foot cliff and landed on a small ledge in a heavily wooded area off the side of the road.

His black 2005 Yamaha motorcycle continued on for another 15 feet before coming to rest 95 feet below the road.

The accident happened about seven miles from the North Carolina line. The 11-mile-long Dragon runs from Tab Cat Creek to Deal’s Gap in North Carolina.

Friday’s accident brings the number of traffic fatalities in Blount County for 2007 to 17. By this time in 2006 Blount County had only had nine traffic fatalities.

Dragon claims life: Man falls over 80-foot cliff to death, July 13, 2007
By Mark Boxleyof The Daily Times Staff

A Michigan man fell to his death Thursday evening after losing control of his motorcycle on the Dragon and sliding off an 80-foot cliff.
The identity of the driver was not released, pending notification of his family.

The call was received after the accident by emergency personnel at 6:52 p.m. The incident happened near Mile Marker 7 on Calderwood Highway (U.S. 129, also commonly known as the Dragon).

According to Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ernest Marion, it appears that the motorcycle driver “lowsided” his bike by applying too much braking pressure on the front wheel while taking a curve — which caused the slide. The man then slid with the bike over the edge of the highway, down an 80-foot cliff and landed on a small ledge in a heavily wooded area off the side of road. His black 2005 Yamaha motorcycle continued on for another 15 feet, coming to rest 95 feet below the road.

Larry Brown, a Fort Wayne, Ind., motorcycle rider in Tennessee on vacation, was one of the first people on the scene. He was alerted to the wreck by a pair of riders who were rushing down the highway looking for someone to call 911. Cell phone coverage in the area is sporadic, so Brown told them to try a store farther up the road. In the meantime, because he knew CPR he attended to the driver while emergency personnel were on their way to the accident.

When he got to the injured driver he was still breathing and had a pulse, Brown said. Emergency personnel were apparently not able to resuscitate the driver, and the man ultimately did not survive the crash. As a fellow motorcycle rider, Brown said seeing the severely injured driver and the accident scene left him “very uneasy.”
Speed was not a factor in the accident, Marion said. “Not at all.”
According to Brown, the motorcyclist was wearing a helmet at the time of the wreck.
No other information on the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident was available Thursday.
Along with THP, Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Blount Special Operations Response Team (BSORT), Blount County Fire Department, Blount
County Volunteer Rescue Squad and Rural/Metro Ambulance Service responded to the accident.
This is the 15th traffic fatality in Blount County this year.

Father, son crash on Dragon, May 7, 2007
By Jessica Stith
of The Daily Times Staff

Father and son motorcyclists who were riding the curves of the Dragon both wrecked — throwing the father down a 150 feet embankment on Sunday afternoon.

Timothy Verostick, 46, of Johnstown, Pa., was taken via Lifestar helicopter to University of Tennessee Medical Center where he was in stable condition. His son, Corey R. Verostick, 23, Johnstown, Pa., was taken by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service to UT Medical Center where he was treated in the emergency room and released.

According to Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Phil Little, the accidents occurred at about 1 p.m. while the father and son were traveling southbound on U.S. 129 between mile markers seven and eight.

Corey Verostick reported that he hit his breaks and his rear wheel began to fish tail, causing him to lay his 2005 Suzuki motorcycle down, Little said.

The father, Timothy Verostick, then lost control of his 2003 Suzuki motorcycle when trying to avoid hitting his son. This caused his motorcycle to run off the side of the road, Little said.

The father's motorcycle went down the embankment and landed at about 10 to 12 feet down. Timothy Verostick flew off of his motorcycle and continued falling approximately 150 feet down the embankment.

Blount Special Operations Response Team (BSORT), Blount County Fire Department, Blount County Volunteer Rescue Squad, Blount County Sheriff's deputies and Rural/Metro Ambulance Service all responded to assist in bringing the injured motorcyclist up the embankment.

"It was really steep," Little said of the embankment.

According to Blount County Fire Department authorities, a "z-system" (rope and pulleys used to pull loads) was used to bring Timothy Verostick up the embankment. 

Little said a landing zone was set up near the scene of the accident. Rural/Metro took Timothy Verostick to the zone and Lifestar flew him to UT Medical center.

Little said both father and son were wearing helmets.


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