Sunday, December 03, 2006

How Not To Tour Cherokee, North Carolina

(Read Foggy Memories to set the scene for this post)

I hesitate to tell this story, because the ending will seem contrived and ... well, fake. It's not, everything in this post is just as it happened ...

The winter I volunteered in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a winter of great discoveries, some of which I posted yesterday. As LE trained volunteers, we rode along with the NPS Rangers on road patrol both day and night. We were there to assist, but as volunteers and not employees, there were restrictions on what we were allowed to do.

Still, most NPS Rangers patrol alone and in law enforcement, it's always better to have a partner. So, the Rangers were glad to have us and we were glad to be getting the experience that would aid us in becoming Rangers.

Highway 441 snakes through GSMNP from Cherokee, NC to Gatlinburg, TN. It's a busy mountain road that is a much shorter route than driving around the mountains for those travelling to either city. 441 has enough elevation and steep grades that it is closed when snow and ice make the way treacherous. There were gates at the foot of the mountains, on both the NC and TN sides. These were closed when the weather got bad, but first, two Rangers would start down from Newfound Gap and sweep all visitors out of the park, one going down the NC side and one sweeping the TN side.

On one particular evening, I was stationed down at the road gate with the Chief Ranger. We had the entry lane closed and were just waiting for the sweeper Ranger to herd the rest of the visitors out of the park. There was a light snow falling and I was standing by the half closed gate explaining to incoming cars that they would have to turn around. The Chief was sitting in his car nearby when the radio crackled to life.

" Hey, stop this car when he comes around the bend, it'll be a white Transam going fast." It seems the sweeper Ranger had tried to pull the car over for a warning when the Transam took off at high speed.

The Chief called to me to shut the gate, and as I walked to grab it a white Transam came blasting around the bend and zipped past me with a blue light NPS patrol car right on his tale.

"GET IN!" yelled the Chief and off we went, blue lights and siren.

Now, this is where the Chief was supposed to put me out, as I was a volunteer, not employed, but he was NOT a strictly by the book guy and so off we went.

We called ahead to the reservation police as we left the park and entered the Cherokee Indian Reservation and one by one the Cherokee police cruisers joined the chase. There were now two NPS patrol cars and two Cherokee police cars between us and the white Transam.

We hit 95 miles an hour going into the town of Cherokee, slowed, and then headed out a very twisty mountain road ... I think it was the road to Maggie Valley, but this was 1981 and I may have that wrong. I do know it was a series of S-curves and the Transam was pulling away ... fast. We lost visual contact with it, but the chain of patrol cars continued on.

Then, as we passed a drive and a house that set back from the road, I thought I saw the Transam parked as we flew by. Was I right? My brain instantly did this internal debate, "What if you're wrong and we investigate while the perp gets away vs. What if you're right and the perp is there and not somewhere ahead of us?"

The Chief saw me flinch and turn to look.

"What, what! Did you see him?"

"I think so."

He slammed on the breaks and did a U-turn. We headed back to the house while the rest of the patrol cars continued on.

Sure enough, in the driveway sat a very warm white Transam with the right license tag. It was empty.

Inside the house, a group of people were sitting watching TV. No one came to the door even though a patrol car with blue lights flashing was sitting in the gravel driveway.

We radioed the other patrol cars and they turned around.

Soon the whole yard was full of flashing patrol cars.

Still, no one came out of the house.

The Chief and the other officers went up to the door, knocked, and a Cherokee man came to the door. He explained to the officers that yes, the driver of the Transam was on his couch watching TV. He did not know him, but he had knocked on the door and asked to come in because the cops were chasing him. The homeowner had let him in.

The Rangers and Cherokee police called the driver out, cuffed him, read him his rights, and arrested him. He was our prisoner, so the Chief and I transported him to the only federally approved jail in the area, over in Bryson City.

Along the way he screamed at us, cussed at us, threatened us, and tried his best to spit at us through the half inch gap between the security panel that divided the front from the backseat of the patrol car.

By the time he entered the jail, he was crying.

It was a quiet ride back to the Ranger Station after all the excitement.

"Good job spotting that car tonight" he said as we entered the park.

"I'm just glad I was right, I was afraid I hadn't actually seen it."
I can't believe that Cherokee family just let that guy in to watch TV though."

"You think that's odd, you know what they were watching?" He turned and looked me in the eye.

" No, what was it?" ( I didn't go into the house, they did follow the book on that)

"Smokey And The Bandit"

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swamp4me said...

Wait...a partner and back-up? What a novel approach to law enforcement ;)

MoMadness said...

Interesting story! Love the Smoky Mts. My cousin is a West Va. state trooper and boy could she tell you some stories. I don't know how she deals with some of the stuff she does. Heartbreaking, sometimes deadly, you name it.
I remember those West Va. mtn. snowy roads; scarier than KC, but KC HAS been a real bite the past few days

Deb said...

Ah, humanity. Always interesting. Thanks for a good story, well told.

Cathy S. said...

I can't wait to pass this and the foggy morning story on to my son. He is the one following in your footsteps, UWF and hoping to go into NPS. Thanks to your advice a few months ago, he has some direction on making his career plans a reality and has contacted the school in NC you refer to here. Great stories! Thanks.

pablo said...

I read of a similar turn of the head to spot the vehicle parked on the side of a house incident in the book A Handmade Wilderness. Of course that was in steamy Mississippi, but the result was the same.

rick said...

we were returning to maggie valley from gatlinburg on 441 at night on a new years eve boy was i glad to get to the cabin some of the roads were iced up and the gate going in was closed.i cant imagine going so fast chasing someone it scary enough doing the speed limit oh by the way!!!!GO GATORS!!!!!

Floridacracker said...

To All,
I didn't believe it either, but when I got back to the "dorm", my roomies were up to hear about my adventure and they confirmed that Smoky had been on that evening as they had watched it too.

SOP would be patrol remote areas alone with no hope of immediate backup and confront lawbreakers.

Thank her for us and I hope she stays safe.

We are an unusual species, but good for a laugh.

Cathy S.,
I gotta tell ya', you made my Monday morning! Best of luck to him and if there are any questions I can help with, just ask.

Never heard of it, must not be a Dean Koontz novel.

I guess these mountain folks never heard that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line :)
Go Gators!

threecollie said...

Oh, Lord, I laughed so hard, then called the boy in for a read. It took him the same way. Great post!

pissed off patricia said...

My dad was once a funeral director in Knoxville Tenn. He had some amazing stories about going into the mountains to homes and funerals. He also drove an ambulance up and down those twisting roads at high speed. This was back when funeral homes also provided ambulances.

I have some wonderful memories of the Smokies and I also have some nightmare memories too.

That was a GREAT story. You had to be smiling as you wrote it.

Hurricane Teen said...

Wow...over 90 MPH on those mountain roads! My grandma has a trailor up by Bryson City, and the driving up there in the mountains is crazy. These two stories were great, thanks for sharing :-D

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I'm still trying to think whether you were Smokey. Fast driving is not for me.

Floridacracker said...

Glad you both liked it. It was a wild winter.

I was really smiling when I got out of that patrol car.
I know that funeral home/ambulance thing was common years ago, but doesn't it seem weird?

The 90 mph part was coming out of the park and into Cherokee. That road stretch wasn't as twisty as the chase out of town. Things slowed to the 70's-80's in there.

SophieMae said...

Fact is definitely stranger than truth. ;0] Glad you lived to tell all these great stories!

ImagineMel said...

You party animal you! And yep,there was a an ambulance/funeral home thing here too. They used to be the ones stationed at the football games. My brothers took advantage of their services many times...TOO many for my mom's taste! And, I have to...why is an undertaker a good friend? Because he's the last person who will let you down! *giggle*

Floridacracker said...

Me too! I'm a big fan of surviving.

Good one!
Yup, I remember when ambulances looked like ambulances and not utility trucks ... even tho the latter is better.

pissed off patricia said...

Back then there was competion among the funeral homes to get their ambulance to wrecks and all first because whomever took the injured to the hospital had the best chance to get the body if the person died. Yes, it was strange but it happened.

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

The Chief must have really known the roads to drive 90 mph on those curvy roads. Good story. I've been there many times, but only once in a car and never when it's snowy.

Anonymous said...

Well told! It was a very exciting read. When we lived in Atlanta we used to camp up near that area in the summer time. I can't imagine taking the roads as fast as y'all did.