RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some guardrails designed to keep drivers safe are blamed for half a dozen deaths. 8News has uncovered hundreds of them along our roads right here in Virginia.
One Virginia family says a guardrail sliced through their daughter’s car.
It December 23, 2016, 37-year-old Sarah Weinberg of Alexandria was heading home for Christmas with her dog in tow, when she suddenly veered off the road and crashed into a guardrail.
“Her vehicle was just ripped open,” explained Thomas Curcio, an attorney for Sarah’s family.
What was supposed to be a protective barrier on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County instead pierced through the Weinberg’s vehicle.
“That is just an end of a metal spear,” Curcio said, pointing to a guardrail in a photo taken at the scene of the crash.
“The first section rode right up over the hood and literally ripped the windshield open just to the right of where Sarah was sitting and then peeled back the roof,” Curcio added.
Weinberg died. The metal barrier was a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail. Curcio calls it a lethal weapon.
“No question about it, had the guardrail done what it was supposed to do, I never would have met Sarah Weinberg’s parents and you and I would not be having this conversation,” Curcio said.
Those same guardrails have blamed for at least five other deaths in Missouri and Tennessee, claiming the lives of Lauren Beuttel, Wilbert Byrd and Hannah Eimers.
Crash scene video from Tennesse shows a guardrail cutting through the middle of Byrd’s car.
“Unfortunately, I am not here to talk about how she lived but how she died,” Hannah’s father, Steven Eimers, said while testifying before a room of Tennessee lawmakers.
Eimers pressed lawmakers to pull the guardrails from the roadways after his 17-year-old-daughter was impaled by a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail when it sliced through her Volvo.
“Why had the guardrail penetrated her vehicle?” Eimers asked. “Guardrails are not supposed to function like this.”
Three lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer, Lindsay Transportation Solutions. The suits claim the guardrail end terminals can splinter or spear a vehicle.
Eimers and Ladeana Gambill, the mother of Lauren Beuttel, are among the plaintiffs.
“I am still trying to wrap my mind around it, it is still very painful,” Gambill said.
Crash test video shows that upon impact, the guardrail end terminals are supposed to telescope or slide into each other when struck. Curcio says that didn’t happen in Weinberg’s case.
“We know for certain that the guardrail did not telescope the way it was designed,” Curcio said.
VDOT, conducting its own crash tests, tells 8News the X-Lite guardrails are no longer an approved product — a decision that was made in September of 2016, four months before Weinberg was killed.
Despite being an unapproved product, 8News has uncovered there are close 500 of them still on Virginia roadways.
8News has found 180 of those Lindsay X-Lite guardrails are lining roads in the Richmond area. We spotted one on Genito Road in Chesterfield. It was broken; the bolts were no longer attached.
Concerns about the bolts on the end terminals have raised by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
In a letter obtained by 8News, TDOT found installation instructions for the X-Lite guardrails to be “unclear” regarding a “lack of bolt torque specifications which “may cause installation deficiencies.”
In a statement Lindsay Transportation Solutions tells 8News:
“Lindsay Transportation Solutions builds road safety equipment that reduces risks for drivers on America’s roads. Lindsay proactively offers a variety of training resources to help states and contractors with proper hardware installation and maintenance, such as road safety tours, a mobile app available in four languages, and onsite training. While X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards, there is no road safety equipment that can prevent injury every time a driver fails to stay on the road. Lindsay continues to work collaboratively with road safety stakeholders on national initiatives to enhance safety on America’s roadways.”
Tennessee transportation engineer, Dr. Stephen Richards, says no design is perfect.
“We have a standard test procedure, but we can’t account for every single different condition we find out in the field,” Richards said.
Still, 8News has learned the federal government is taking a closer look at the guardrails.
In the meantime, Eimers is calling on the National Highway Administration to remove them from roads across the country.
“I believe they are more concerned about their pensions and getting to retirement than they are with the safety of people on highways,” Eimers suggested.
The Linsday X-Lite guardrails are on roads in at least 20 states. See where they are here.
8News wanted to ask VDOT why the guardrails, if an unapproved product, are still on the roads in Virginia. VDOT declined going on camera due to ongoing litigation.
“The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is committed to protecting the traveling public on our roadways. Our priority is safety for our travelers. Contracts are actively underway to replace all types of obsolete terminals across the state. VDOT estimates that 280 X-Lite terminals will be replaced in 2018. The remaining X-Lite terminals on state maintained roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher will be replaced in 2019. — VDOT”
However, VDOT has no plans to replace the X-Lite guardrails on roads with speeds under 55 miles per hour.