Mother looks to make Dragon safer
By Wes Wade | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The past year hasn’t been easy on Pat Thompson. It didn’t get any easier in August, a year after her son, Dwight Woodard, was killed in a traffic accident on “The Dragon.”
The state had presented a charge of vehicular homicide to a Blount County grand jury against the driver of the tractor-trailer that struck Woodard as he was riding his motorcycle Aug. 3, 2011.
On Aug. 5, 2012, the grand jury returned a “No Bill” against the driver, Bobby Frank Coleman, and the charge was dismissed. “I was not happy about it and am still not happy about it,” Thompson, a Wartrace resident, said.
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol report, Coleman was coming around a curve and was in Woodard’s lane when the accident happened. Woodard died while en route to the hospital.
While Thompson didn’t agree with the grand jury’s findings, she said she’s focusing on trying to make roads like the Dragon a safer place for riders and drivers alike.
A safer dragon
Something she and her son, Kevin Woodard, who is a truck driver for Nabisco, have already done is attempt to persuade the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to ban tractor-trailers longer than 30 feet length from using the Dragon. Citing a detrimental economic impact on commerce if a ban was placed, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said in a letter to U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. dated Oct. 19 that the department would not do so.
Thompson said she plans to continue to push for Tennessee to place signs warning truck drivers that using the roadway could be dangerous. She said North Carolina already has signs up warning trucks of the dangerous curves and hopes Tennessee will follow.
Thompson said she’d also like for map makers such as Atlas to mark these roadways to warn truck drivers that roads like the Dragon are especially dangerous for tractor-trailer usage.
Thompson said if the highway was deemed a historic route, that trucks could be banned. She explained that she recently learned it was used heavily by Native Americans for trading purposes and that a historic designation might lead to a tractor-trailer ban.
“That’s what we’re hoping we can do,” Thompson said. “There’s several historic roads in Tennessee that trucks aren’t allowed to be on.”
Suit still pending
An engineering forensics group out of Knoxville that Thompson hired recently completed a reconstruction of the crash that killed her son. She said its findings in the crash closely mirrored that of state investigators, but was more detailed and showed proof that Coleman was taking up both lanes of travel. She has asked Blount County Assistant District Attorney Ryan Desmond to present it as new evidence in another grand jury indictment against Coleman. Yet since its findings essentially paralleled that of state investigators, she was told it likely could not be used, but has not yet heard back on a final decision.
Thompson has also spent the last year preparing for a lawsuit she and other family members of Dwight Woodard, including two daughters he left behind, have filed against Coleman and his employer, the Blackshear, Ga.-based Thom’s Transport Company, Inc. She said a hearing has been scheduled for April.
One aspect of comfort for Thompson during the last year has been two witnesses at the scene of her son’s crash that provided police with their account of what happened — specifically, that Coleman was taking up both lanes of the roadway.
“We all feel God sent them as Dwight’s Guardian Angels,” Thompson wrote in a letter to the Daily Times. “They talked with Dwight and comforted him until the ambulance arrived ... I feel we would have never known what really happened to Dwight and the truck had they not been there at the time of the accident.”
While her son can’t be brought back, Thompson said she hopes a similar tragedy can be avoided in the future.
“There’s a huge importance there (roadway safety),” she said. “We just can’t figure out what we need to do to get it done.”