Rowdy weekend has city reconsidering rod runs | News

PIGEON FORGE — Pigeon Forge officials said they’re reconsidering how the city works with car shows after a Rod Run weekend that involved shots fired at a gas station, traffic that congested city streets into the early hours of the morning, and an increasingly raucous crowd.

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“Moving forward, the city has some decisions to make as far as how these shows progress,” Police Chief Richard Catlett said Monday.

“I’m concerned with the safety of my officers and the public. I’m concerned with how it’s going.”

Last weekend marked the first Rod Run in Pigeon Forge since the pandemic, and it was probably one of the most attended ever, Catlett said

It’s also the first time in the chief’s memory that there’s been an incident where shots were fired during an event.

In videos that were widely seen online and were shared on Knoxville media, two groups can be seen in a confrontation among a crowd of people at the Pilot station on the Parkway late Friday night.

Everyone immediately scatters after the gun was discharged, as someone apparently fired into the air. No injuries were reported, and officers are still investigating the incident and looking to find the shooter.

A Pigeon Forge officer had been approaching the scene on foot, but the shots were fired as he reached the edge of the parking lot.

They got several different accounts of what happened and different descriptions of the shooter, and they’ve been working on the videos since then to determine who fired the shots, he said.

There have been many incidents at car shows over the years where they’ve confiscated guns that were either brandished or were illegally carried, he said, but this is the first time he can recall where shots were fired.

It was part of a rowdy weekend, he said.

The Rod Run is a trade meet and car show that is based at the LeConte Center, but many car enthusiasts come to town for the event without ever going to the show at the events center.

People line the sidewalks of the Parkway to get a look at classic cars cruising the main thoroughfare through town.

That always leads to stop-and-go traffic over the Rod Run weekend, and residents in the area said it could take as long as two hours to get across the city during the weekend.

The event always results in more crime — usually a marked increase in DUIs, public intoxication and public indecency.

This year was no exception. The intake reports from the Sevier County Jail indicates there were 68 arrest over the weekend, with 23 from Pigeon Forge.

It wasn’t clear how many people were cited without being booked at the jail.

Catlett said there are some parts of the crowd that have become increasingly rowdy and raucous during the event.

“The group, it just seems to be getting worse and worse,”he said. “The behavior gets a little more vulgar and they keep pushing the envelope when you think you’ve seen it all.”

“It just has turned into a Mardi Gras atmosphere and we still have laws that we have to enforce.”

With what officials believed was record attendance on hand for the weekend, the event also created bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Parkway and many secondary roads.

“Traffic was horrible,” Catlett said. “ It picked up Thursday and got worse.”

“The Parkway was backed up, every side street was backed up.”

The problems, and some of the same rowdy crowd, continued into the night, he said. Even at 3 a.m., there was still lots of traffic but they also had some drivers trying to speed through areas where traffic opened up or do burnouts at traffic lights.

That’s another case where the officers were writing tickets, getting complaints that they were spoiling the fun of some of the drivers.

“We welcome everybody, but we want them to behave,” Catlett said.

Problems from the event extended beyond the city, with other agencies adding manpower and seeing more arrests.

Sevierville Police, like other agencies, had extra officers assigned for the weekend, spokesman Bob Stahlke said.

Spring weekends are always busy, and they had an event of their own at Smokies Stadium in the form of the Smoky Mountain Truck Fest.

Pigeon Forge Mayor David Wear said they’ve been aware for some time that they’d have to make a decision about the car shows, but after this weekend they’ll be discussing it at an upcoming workshop, too.

“I think this has been on everybody’s minds a couple of years,” he said.

There’s a group of businesses that are strongly opposed to cutting or ending the car shows and there are also a large group of businesses and citizens that are in favor of it.”

Like Catlett, he said he doesn’t believe it’s the people who come to the original, organized events at the Leconte Center or, in the case of the Shades of the Past car show, Splash Country.

But it’s difficult to split the people who come on those occasion to party from the car enthusiasts.

They saw that last year, Wear noted, when they canceled the Rod Run at the events center due to the pandemic but still had much of the crowd show up that week anyway.

The city will be considering all options, he said, from limiting the car shows or stopping them, to an increased police presence.

It’s not a decision that’s guided by money for the city, he said, because the events don’t bring in a lot of revenue for the city by the time the city accounts for overtime for police, public works and other employees, and the cleanup after they’re over.

“The idea the city’s just trying to make money off of car shows is just not the case,” he said. “It’s not even a contributing factor of whether we keep them or do away with them.”

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