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'Losing Luke has been a living hell' | BCSO, mother who lost son urge caution on The Dragon

The Blount County Sheriff's Office said it will soon increase patrols on the famous stretch of road known as "The Dragon."

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — On June 12, 2021, Lisa Hutsell received a phone call that no parent ever wants. Her son, Luke Hutsell, had gotten into a fatal motorcycle accident.

"I think of him from the moment I wake up to the time I go to bed," Hutsell said. "And it's truly heartbreaking, especially losing a child." 

Luke was 18 years old, and his mom said he loved riding his motorcycle since he was a toddler. When he discovered the Tail of The Dragon, Hutsell said her son wanted to be there all the time. 

"Once he discovered The Dragon, he was up there as much as he could be," Hutsell said. "And I have no regrets letting him ride on The Dragon. He loved it up there."

Up there on the mountain was where Luke met Brittany Nitzband. They instantly became like family, Nitzband said, and began riding The Dragon together. 

Nitzband was Luke's "Dragon mother," as he used to call her. She said her happy place is when she remembers the last time she saw him.

"The last word I said to him was, 'I love you,' and gave him a big hug," Nitzband said. "Please be careful, and that's the moment I go to every time because it's the last moment that I actually got that hug from him." 

Nitzband also urges drivers to be careful when driving a motorcycle. A few years ago she was heading to the Tail of The Dragon and she got into an accident. Her leg had to be amputated. 

She said she believed wearing safety gear "could've saved her leg." Now she spreads awareness about driving safely, as well as about Luke.

"People will ask me all the time, 'Why do you wear a full suit? Aren't you hot?' And I say, 'I'd rather be hot than lose my other leg,'" Nitzband said. 

The Blount County Sheriff's Office recently announced on social media it will increase patrols on The Dragon. It is asking everyone driving through The Dragon road to obey the law and follow speed limits. 

Lieutenant Randall Ailey has been working for more than 25 years with BCSO, and he's been with the traffic unit since it began in 2002. He said it's important for people to stay in their lanes and follow the speed limits. 

"This road is an unusual road," Ailey said. "There are not many roads like this across the country. So, we get visitors here that have never driven such sharp curves, steep hills, the blind curves, and it's easy for them to be distracted, look away and cross the center line. It happens a lot." 

Ailey said this is a place with beautiful scenery and he understands it can be fun, but he prefers safety. He said they usually get somewhere between three and six fatalities per year and also have a lot of injuries from crashes on The Dragon.

"Now, I've spent a lot of time working up here on The Dragon. It's not so fun when you're having to bring injured and fatal injuries off The Dragon," Ailey said. 

Nitzband, who has been riding a motorcycle for more than 20 years, said drivers need to always be mindful about what else could be on the road.

"Always be mindful of what's coming next," she said. "Don't be right there looking at the ground as you're driving. You need to know a corner ahead of time. It's a road where you can't take your eyes off for a split second." 

Luke's mom said it's better to slow down than risking to leave your loved ones behind.

"People say time makes it easier," Hutsell said. "But in my mind, time doesn't make it easier. You just learn to live with the pain a little bit more" 

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