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Three years after their son's death, DJ and Wendy Corcoran want more changes on Chapman Highway

The highway is considered one of the most dangerous in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Three years after their son's death, and promises for change, DJ and Wendy Corcoran watch as more people die on Chapman Highway than before. 

In the five years leading up to 2019, 5.4 people died in the 22-mile stretch between Knoxville and Sevierville on Chapman Highway. Since 2019, that number rose to an average of 5.7 people dying every year on the highway. 

RELATED: 10Investigates: 76 deaths on Chapman Highway since 2005

In 2018, Pierce Corcoran and his girlfriend drove to Walmart on a cold Thursday evening. Francisco-Eduardo Franco Cambrany swerved, drove into oncoming traffic and hit Pierce's car. 

Cambrany came to the U.S. illegally and lived here for 14 years. He did not have a license at the time of the accident, and federal authorities said they deported him. 

The crash killed Pierce Corcoran. He was 22. 

"It haunts me to think what he could have become," said DJ Corcoran. "That bothers me that his life was taken so soon." 

"It was hard for us once we realized people knew that it was an issue and had been fighting to get something done about it," said Wendy Corcoran, Pierce's mom. 

In 2016, TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi told 10News "the only way to make Chapman Highway safer is to take a lot of the traffic off of that highway." 

TDOT officials proposed an extension to James White Parkway to ease some of the congestion on Chapman Highway. 

Former Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero opposed the plan because it would go through the South Knoxville Urban Wilderness. 

Supporters of the Urban Wilderness said the proposed James White Parkway extension wouldn't fix the problem because it would end at Moody Avenue, and put traffic back onto Chapman Highway. 

In August 2013, the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or TPO voted unanimously against the James White Parkway extension. 

RELATED: James White Parkway extension debate revisited

However, TDOT maintains the only way to fix Chapman Highway is to reduce the number of cars on that road. 

"I don't agree with that," said Harold Cannon, the Knoxville City Engineer. "The components that are complicating Chapman Highway is the lack of the center turn lane, the lack of the median separation where there's no turn lane." 

The Knoxville TPO suggested recommendations for fixing Chapman Highway, including adding a center turn lane, landscaped medians and separated bike and pedestrian lanes, similar to a greenway. 

TDOT is also in the midst of several improvements to Chapman Highway, including widening the road, adding signals and paving shoulders. 

"Those projects we are and will undertake will assist with safety, but our original statement still stands," Nagi said in an email. 

TDOT still believes the improvements "wouldn't be sufficient" for the amount of traffic and the safety challenges on Chapman Highway. 

Cannon, the Knoxville City Engineer said he believes the changes proposed by the city will fix the major problems of the roadway. He said there are already $45 million appropriated for the changes, TDOT and the Knoxville TPO need to agree on how to spend the money allocated. 

DJ Corcoran said he thought the Knoxville TPO made the wrong decision in not extending the James White Parkway. 

"When you're choosing parks over people and over the safety of people, I think that's a wrong decision to make."

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