Patrols taming the Dragon

Patrols taming the Dragon

Posted:
Due to funding from the Governor's Highway Safety Office, Blount County and the Tennessee Highway Patrol now have officers to patrol the Dragon, catching speeders and reducing wrecks. Due to funding from the Governor's Highway Safety Office, Blount County and the Tennessee Highway Patrol now have officers to patrol the Dragon, catching speeders and reducing wrecks.

By WHITNEY HOLMES
6 News Anchor/Reporter

TALLASSEE (WATE) -- Almost every week, you probably hear of an accident on the Dragon which is a stretch of road on Highway 129 in Blount County going to the North Carolina state line.

The Dragon is known by motorcyclists for its curves and its dangers.

Last week, a Texas woman died on the Dragon. Police say crews had to use ropes to get to the woman who ended up down a near 150 foot embankment on the other side of the road.

"People up here they are having fun but they forget about the dangers. I believe with our presence here, it's slowed them down some," said Blount County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Randy Ailey.

Sgt. Ailey's taming the Dragon.

"It's a lot of curves a lot of fun to drive through the dragon. It's just one curve after another," said Arkansas motorcyclist Gary Wiles.

"The thrill of being on the open road, feeling the curves and the bike move with the curves, it's just the best free ride in Tennessee," said Maryville motorcyclist Tom Pritchett.

Due to funding from the Governor's Highway Safety Office, Blount County and the Tennessee Highway Patrol now have officers to patrol the Dragon, catching speeders and reducing wrecks.

Three years ago, without the funding, the Dragon was basically untamed.

"At one time we were having so many wrecks up here, it was tying officers up for hours up here to work wrecks," said Sgt. Ailey.

Between 2007 and 2008 the number of wrecks was cut by a quarter, according the BCSO.

That's good news because response time to a crash can take up to three hours.

"If someone has a wreck on the Dragon, there is no phone signal up here along the eleven mile stretch. You have to drive from one end to the other to call emergency personnel," said Sgt. Ailey as he spots a wreck along the side of the road.

It's not an uncommon occurrence for Sgt. Ailey to find a wreck. Luckily this one was not serious.

Sgt. Ailey says people come from around the world to ride the Dragon which in eleven miles has 318 curves. ]

Many riders have their own strategies for taking the curves on while staying safe.

"You have to be careful not to get to the center line," explained Wiles.

"Stay within the speed limit especially if it's your first time," advised Pritchett.

Sgt. Ailey works an overtime shift to patrol the Dragon. A motorcycle enthusiast himself, he knows why this stretch of road attracts so many riders.

Just his being there is cutting down on the number of rides that start out on a motorcycle and end in an ambulance.

"Our main focus is whatever it takes to make this place safer for everybody," he said.

There have been two deaths along the Dragon this year. Since the funding, overall calls to UT Life Star helicopter have been reduced by about 67 percent.

Along the Dragon there are about five tents set up by people who make a living selling pictures of the motorcyclists on their web sites.

The first, killboy.com, was started about six years ago by Darryl Cannon. Cannon takes pictures of the riders and then the riders can buy those pictures online.

He says he's seen a big difference since law enforcement started up there.

"We see just about everything that happens out here and we've see the difference it makes when policemen are out here as opposed to it being wide open," he said. "It's pretty obvious impact that it has."

Since starting six years ago, killboy.com now has a staff of four people.

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