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Lenoir City greenway walker struck, dies

A Lenoir City woman has died after a vehicle hit her Friday morning at Rock Springs Road and McGhee Boulevard intersection.

Loudon County E-911 Center Executive Director Jennifer Lanter said the call came in of a struck pedestrian at 10:16 a.m. Friday. Lenoir City police and fire departments, along with Priority Ambulance, were called to the scene.

The pedestrian, Lorraine Lockridge, 59, died shortly after being transported to Fort Loudoun Medical Center.

“There was a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck traveling on Rock Springs Road from Old Highway 95,” Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said. “The driver pulls up to the stop sign to turn left onto McGhee Boulevard. The pedestrian, Lorraine Lockridge, she would have been traveling from the Broadway area on the greenway going toward the high school area. He said that he looked to the left and did not see anybody and turned to the right to clear the intersection coming down 6th Avenue, pulled away from the stop sign turning left and said he did not see her until she struck the front of the vehicle.

“So the time of day with the sun position and then the possibility of the windshield post on the vehicle, we feel like at this stage there was no indication of distracted driving, there was no — the witness testimony of that was there at the scene corroborated what he said that he did stop at the stop sign and it was just we don’t know if she was actually jogging or walking,” he added. “It was just a very unfortunate tragedy.”

Stephen Rawls, 66, of Lenoir City, who was driving the truck, agreed to take a blood screen, but White said the toxicology report could take 60-90 days. There was no indication Rawls was under the influence, White said.

When paramedics arrived, Travis Estes, county Emergency Medical Services director for Priority Ambulance, said Lockridge was “barely breathing” with injuries to her chest and head.

“She had a heart rate at that time, but she had critical head and chest injuries,” Estes said. “So we went ahead rendered aid there, put an airway in her. Asked for LifeStar to meet us at the hospital and then as we arrived at the hospital she went into full cardiac arrest so we came inside the ER here where we worked on her probably an additional 45 minutes putting in chest tubes, hanging blood on her, doing those types of things, but we were unsuccessful. She passed away here at the ER in Fort Loudoun.”

White hoped to have the investigation complete today.

“Right now everything’s under investigation but as it stands we feel like that it was just purely an accident,” White said.

Greenback 'coming back to life'

For much of the Fourth of July, the little town of Greenback came alive as people splashed one another with water, ate hot dogs for a good cause and happily danced around the depot hours after the city held a large patriotic parade.

“It’s a really big day for a really tiny town,” Wendy Tittsworth, Greenback events coordinator, said. “... The parade that we had today was the biggest in the history that we’ve ever had, the longest parade that we’ve ever had. We had more attendance that we’ve ever had.”

For the city of roughly 1,000 residents, Thursday included an arts and crafts festival followed by a celebration downtown that was capped off with fireworks.

Beginning at 6 p.m., residents ventured downtown for food, crafts, dunking city mayor Dewayne Birchfield in water, soaking each other with water guns and water activities, line dancing and, after a long absence, square dancing.

Tittsworth said square dancing made a return after about 20 years. Hopes are to make it a tradition again.

“One thing that we noticed is after years of sitting kind of stagnant, the town is really beginning to revitalize,” she said. “I think the reason behind that is we’re letting our citizens take part in getting things done in town. When you allow somebody to take part, they feel a little bit of ownership and pride because it’s more of their town then. All of the things that we have, the crafts and things that we have tonight, were all donated items.”

Everything except the fireworks and a line dance instructor was donated, Tittsworth said.

Money was raised through a hot dog dinner and dunking Birchfield to purchase new CPR training dummies for the Greenback Rescue Squad.

“That was kind of a little joke with Wendy during one of the meetings. I had to calm her down, you know, and she said, ‘You’re going to the dunking booth. Payback’,” Birchfield said with a laugh. “But the money that’s raised from that will go to the rescue squad and stuff.”

A final number could not be determined by News-Herald presstime, but Greenback Rescue Squad Deputy Chief Channing Ledbetter estimated $2,500-$3,500 was needed.

“There’s always the need and an awareness to give the CPR training out there,” Ledbetter said. “Especially if you’re having to administer CPR, it’s important to get that started immediately because the longer you go the less chance of survival. Every minute the chance goes down either brain damage or what not. So the more people we can get trained gives us just that extra little bit amount of time whether it could be two minutes or it could be five minutes depending on where we have to go to get that CPR started.”

Kathy Neely sat out front of the depot encouraging passersby to write a letter to a soldier to let them know they are appreciated. Children could also decorate their letters.

“I had two sons in the military and it’s very important for them to get something from home,” Neely said. “Of course, mine were lucky, they got quite a bit, but they have told me about ones that didn’t get anything from home and it’s very hard to them. It’s very hard on the soldiers.

“They get depressed and to me that’s where a lot of the PTSD comes in because they feel like nobody cares about them,” she added. “So they really enjoy getting stuff from home. We’re going to try our best to get these to people that don’t receive from their families.”

Tittsworth sees a city coming alive.

“Just coming back to life,” she said. “I really feel like with the changes we’ve had in this city it’s a very, very positive direction we’re going in. It’s really a more positive overall feeling in the town, I guess. You see a lot more smiling.”

New cellphone law in place

As of July 1, drivers caught using their cellphone while operating a vehicle could face a fine.

Gov. Bill Lee in May signed the hands-free law to ban phone use while driving with exceptions for law enforcement, first responders and utility workers. The ban includes holding a cellphone with any part of the body, writing, sending or reading texts, reaching for a mobile device that requires the driver to no longer be seated or properly restrained by a seat belt, or using the device to watch or record a video.

Drivers can use mounted phones for one swipe or tap. The law does not apply to drivers calling authorities for an emergency.

Only hands-free devices will be allowed, such as ear pieces, wrist-worn devices or headphone devices. The first violation is $50, which can be waived if a driver completes an education course. Fines increase in construction and school zones and for future offenses.

“We want to talk about epidemics with regards to the opioids and all the lives it affects and that kind of thing. Think of all the people that had died because somebody was distracted from using their cellphone texting or something,” James “Bear” Webb, Loudon police chief, said.

The Hands Free Tennessee campaign was started by Tennessee departments of safety and homeland security, transportation and tourist development to educate drivers on what the new law means. According to the campaign, 24,600 wrecks involved a distracted driver in Tennessee in 2018. The state from 2015-17 also had the highest rate of distracted driving deaths in the United States at 7.2 deaths per 10 billion vehicle miles.

Local law enforcement officials believe the change can only be good.

“Certainly distracted driving is an issue not only for Loudon County but just nationally, and yes, it will be an impact here,” Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said. “I think a positive impact just because the fact that we have a very, very heavily traveled corridor down Highway 321 from I-40 all the way through Lenoir City and to the next county line because of the Great Smoky Mountains and just the heavy business travel that we have on a daily basis.

“So in densely traveled areas the likelihood of a rear-end collision and/or just a low-impact collisions are increased due to distracted driving, so I think we will see a positive change and reduce the number with this law going into effect,” he added.

Lenoir City officers will likely first give a warning if they catch drivers using their phones as people get used to the change, White said.

Loudon Police Sgt. Scott Newman has noticed a difference already in the short time the new law has been in place.

“One thing that I’ve done in the last couple of years is during school zones you’re not supposed to have a phone, that’s the law, been in that position for a while,” Newman said. “But yeah, it’ll be a big change because you’re always looking to see if they’re doing something and then when they’re driving by you and they got the phone to their ear.”

White estimates it could be a month before it becomes “second nature.”

“Anytime there’s a law change there’s obviously a period of time that we have to adjust our skillset as police officers because, like you said, we’ve been working ... and not been paying attention to that,” White said. “So this will be something completely new so they’ll have to readjust and retrain their focus on looking for that.”

Webb noted drivers should use “common sense.”

“It’s something that me personally that I’ve done, I don’t know, probably a year and a half ago because all of the vehicles now, the later model vehicles, all of them are manufactured now with bluetooth capability,” he said. “I think that common sense would say if that technology is there, to use it.”

Texting while driving is illegal, and a handheld ban in active school zones was implemented in 2017. All cellphone use is banned for those with an intermediate license or learner’s permit.

Tim Guider, Loudon County sheriff, noted the importance of safe driving.

“For sure distracted driving is a huge contributor I feel in regarding traffic accidents, particularly texting,” he said. “You shouldn’t do that at all and obviously the hands-free phone is very I think usable. ... We’re all taught when we learn how to drive that we should use two hands on the wheel and that’s just something that we need to continue to practice.”

U.S. 321 project likely delayed

Work on U.S. Highway 321 could soon be seeing another delay after hopes were to have the project completed in August.

Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said a change order is being negotiated after an issue arose with the location of traffic signal poles at the intersection of U.S. 321 and Simpson Road West.

“It was discovered in the field that the proposed location of the pole foundation was in conflict with an existing 12-inch water main,” Nagi said in an email correspondence. “A plan revision was issued to relocate this pole. Due to this location change, an additional signal pole was required at the northwest corner of Simpson Drive West to span the larger distance. The time extension that is being negotiated will address the extra time that will be required to fabricate and install the pole that was added at this location.”

The change order is still in the “negotiation process” between the state and the prime contractor, he said.

A statement by TDOT Executive Administrative Assistant Doug Gunnels notes the date could be pushed back to Sept. 16. Currently, the completion is slated for Aug. 4.

AT&T is still scheduled to place fiber optics in new conduit that was part of the project. Nagi could not provided a timeline when that will be completed.

“The installation of AT&T’s fiber optic lines at the intersection of U.S. 321 and U.S. 11 is critical to proceeding to the next phase of construction,” Nagi said. “The contractor has installed a new set of underground conduit at this location. AT&T will be placing new fiber optic lines in this conduit in order to retire the existing lines that cross this intersection. Once the new lines are functioning, the old AT&T lines will then be demolished. The old lines are in direct conflict with the new elevations of the intersection.”

AT&T’s lines need to be installed before moving to the next construction phase “to ensure service is maintained to the community,” including emergency services, phone and internet, Nagi said.

The road project includes widening two miles from Highway 11 to Simpson Road East, with the existing roadway expanded to six lanes. The intersection will also see improvements. Hopes are the changes will reduce congestion and allow better travel times, according to TDOT.

“It’s gone real slow but they’ve had a few problems here and there, a lot of relocation of utility lines,” Eddie Simpson, Lenoir City councilman, said. “The biggest holdup has been AT&T with redoing everything down at the intersection, but I really think all and all it’ll really be worth it when it’s over. I know people have really kind of been put out with it, but I think in the long run it’s going to help the congestion tremendously.”

Simpson stressed patience for drivers.

“People don’t realize how much work behind the scenes is put on and I guess they don’t think they’re going to be inconvenienced when it’s happening, but any growth is going to have a time that you’re inconvenienced,” Simpson said. “I don’t think this one’s any different. Simpson Road, which is I’m thinking real close to getting started now, and there’s going to be some rerouting of traffic and some more inconvenienced there as well. In the long run we have to live up to our growth.”