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Virtue Road design, safety questioned

Controversy continues to build over what many perceive as a danger to drivers in Farragut.

The danger lies in the engineering of Virtue Road and its hazardous curves a few hundred yards from the road’s junction with Kingston Pike.

Two weeks ago a Knoxville Catholic High School senior, Megan Birkel, 17, lost her life when the vehicle she was driving began to slide and collided with a large stand of trees alongside the road.

Knox County Sheriff’s Department patrolman John Edgar, who investigated Birkel’s accident, reported: “It appears (Birkel) lost control of her vehicle and crossed the north-bound lane of Virtue Road. (She) then over corrected and went back across the south-bound lane before leaving the road and making contact with a tree.”

Edgar stated that the conditions of the road were wet and that “driver inexperience” could have been a factor.

A month earlier, Farragut High School senior Julie Kensell also lost control of the vehicle she was driving in similar wet conditions at the same spot.

Kensell survived the accident.

Ralph Kensell, Julie’s father and an emergency room physician at St. Mary’s Hospital, said his daughter hit the same tree, only with the rear quarter of her vehicle.

Kensell said the accident caused his daughter to “lose consciousness” after which she was transported to St. Mary’s E-R.

A year before, Austin Rhodes, now a senior at FHS, lost control of the vehicle he was driving while driving through the curves.

Kallin Rhodes, Austin’s mother, said her son’s Jan. 4, 2004, accident was very similar to Birkel’s and Kensell’s.

“Austin was driving his Toyota Solara south on Virtue at about five-thirty,” she said. “It was raining and he lost control in the curve and smashed his car into the trees. … Something’s got to be done.”

Rhodes said she contacted the records office at the Sheriff’s Department to check out the accident history of the road.

“Susan Clark at the records office produced File V of the Knox County road files, which had incident reports of two other accidents that occurred in two-thousand four on the same stretch of Virtue Road,” she said.

“I think the town should immediately cut down the trees and install a guard rail,” Rhodes said, adding, “the town’s engineers should go out and find out why cars are losing control and do something, even if it means changing the grade of the road.”

Rhodes said that she’s gone through the process of filing a formal complaint with the town of Farragut.

At last week’s Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting Feb. 10, town engineer Darryl Smith said he had received numerous requests to remove some trees on Virtue Road after (Birkel’s) traffic fatality occurred on one of the curves.

Smith said, “I think the alignment is reasonable given the speed limit, but we’re going to go ahead and remove several trees around the curve and some one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet south of the curve.”

KCSD Capt. Ben Harkins said, “I think it’s a great idea to go ahead and remove the trees. I don’t know if anything specific could be done to stop the accidents we’ve had on the road. It’s a narrow roadway that requires care, especially at night.”

Smith added in a telephone interview that the project of removing the trees might be a job the town would contract out.

“We’re thinking of having the trees removed during Spring Break, since the project would take a few days,” Smith said. “We also would consider closing Virtue Road while the work is going on during the day and reopening it each night. We would probably detour traffic through Sugarwood (subdivision).”

Smith added that Willow Creek Golf manager Bill Roach had called him and said he would much rather have the cars go onto the course than into the trees.


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