Family sues for $14.5M in fatality on ‘Dragon’
By Wes Wade | ([email protected]
The family of a motorcyclist killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer on “The Dragon” in August has filed a $14.5 million lawsuit in Blount County Circuit Court.
The suit was filed Thursday on behalf of several family members of 45-year-old Christiana resident Dwight Ross Woodard, who died the morning of Aug. 3 after a collision with a tractor-trailer driven by Bobby Frank Coleman, 47, of Nashville, Ga.
Coleman is named as a defendant in the suit along with his employer, the Blackshear, Ga.-based Thom’s Transport Company Inc.
The complaint alleges that Coleman violated several state statutes as his truck crossed into Woodard’s lane of travel, blocking both lanes of U.S. Highway 129 in a curve near Mile Marker 5. According to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report, Woodard was traveling southbound on his Triumph Triple Speed motorcycle when he struck the left side of the trailer as it crossed over into his lane.
Criminal charges have not been filed in the crash.
According to the complaint, Woodard remained conscious and alert until an ambulance arrived nearly an hour after the wreck, but died about 30 minutes later on his way to the hospital.
Those listed as plaintiffs in the suit include Woodard’s two daughters, ages 14 and 8, and Woodard’s mother, Patricia Thompson. They seek compensation for damages to include wrongful death, medical and funeral expenses and lost future earnings. A jury was requested to try the case.
Thom’s Transport Company Inc. declined to comment.
TDOT opposes ban
Several Nashville riders, including members of Woodard’s family, mounted a campaign shortly after the crash to persuade legislators to ban tractor-trailers longer than 30 feet from using the Dragon, an 11.1-mile stretch of U.S. 129 from Tabcat Creek to the North Carolina state line at Deals Gap.
But in a letter to U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. dated Oct. 19, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Commissioner John C. Schroer said it was the department’s decision not to implement a ban on tractor-trailers from using the highway.
“It is our position that the economic impact of restricting tractor-trailers along this federally designated U.S. route would severely impact commerce, as there is no reasonable alternative route for commercial traffic in this vicinity,” Schroer wrote.
The commissioner added that TDOT provides enhanced safety advisories in regards to potentially dangerous roadways and that it is the responsibility of motorists to exercise a greater amount of caution when traveling winding mountain roads.
“We recognize that this was a tragic event,” Schroer continued. “However, we do not feel we can give priority to one group of motorists over another by restricting certain types of vehicles from U.S. 129.”
The letter also noted that TDOT, in conjunction with the motorcycle industry, had conducted a series of studies on the Dragon in 2008 to identify the root cause of severe crashes and to then implement safety improvements. In researching fatal crashes, the department said that during the last three years only one crash involved a collision between a motorcycle and tractor-trailer.
According to Schroer’s statement, the study found that speed in relation to negotiating curves on the Dragon was the major underlying issue related to severe crashes and fatalities. TDOT has since implemented a series of improvements along the corridor, including posting new signage and markings, paving pull-off areas and installing enhanced signage discouraging truck traffic from using the highway, the letter states.
TDOT records indicate that 17 motorcycle fatalities have occurred on the Dragon during the past six years.