News 13 Investigates: Father's push to get specific guardrails off N.C. roads
Are North Carolina transportation officials ignoring a dangerous product on our roadways?
One man says that's exactly what's happening, and he's now reaching out to the public to get a certain guardrail out of our state.
This summer, we told you about safety concerns over the Lindsey X-LITE guardrail end.
After four fatal crashes involving the product, the Tennessee Department of Transportation pulled it from its roads. But North Carolina still can't confirm exactly how many are in our state or where they're located, which simply isn't good enough for Steve Eimers.
One man's mission
Eimers first learned about the X-LITE after his daughter was killed in a car crash involving the guardrail end.
Hannah Eimers was 17 years old when she died on Interstate 75 in McMinn County, Tennessee.
The accident happened Nov. 1, 2016. Since then, Hannah's father has been working to get the device off roads across the country.
"If someone does lose their life I want to make sure they count, their life mattered. I want to make sure people know this shouldn't have happened and we will hold them accountable, we will hold their feet to the fire," said Eimers.
Which is why he's now following every news article about a guardrail crash and has called numerous state DOTs.
"The X-LITE, I believe, is inherently defective. It has killed. It has continued to kill, and it will kill in the future. When it is impacted, it does not function properly," said Eimers.
Tennessee transportation officials agree.
BJ Doughty is a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
She says after several deadly crashes, they started tracking all 1,800 X-LITES across the state and ultimately decided to remove every one in Tennessee.
"What we were seeing in the field is that instead of telescoping, like the middle piece was coming out and there was a danger of intrusion," said Doughty.
But Eimers says North Carolina's response has been much different. He says transportation officials are not only ignoring the problem, they're also refusing to provide data about the product.
"It's unconscionable is what it comes down to. That you could simply refuse to count, to bury your head in the sand and refuse to count, it's unacceptable," said Eimers.
North Carolina's response
The North Carolina Department of Transportation now says it doesn't believe the X-LITE has been involved in any fatal wrecks in the state.
This summer DOT officials said it would be too expensive, several million dollars, to do an inventory of where the product is located.
"Our department has historically said we are not maintaining, we have not chosen to develop and maintain an inventory of guardrail ends or a variety of other items out there," state traffic engineer Kevin Lacey said.
In addition, North Carolina has fast tracked new guardrail standards, so no new X-LITES will be installed. But, the approximately 5,000 already on our roads won't be removed. They will only be replaced when they are damaged or need repairs.
Push for facts
But Eimers says there's been little concern over the product that other states have deemed dangerous.
Now, he's decided to take his own steps to find answers.
"I put an ad on craigslist because I'll pay you if you see one of these. It's worth it to me to not make that call I've made so many times," said Eimers.
Eimer's ad is now popping up on craigslist throughout North Carolina. He's asking for photos or information on X-LITE locations or confirmed crashes.
He's hoping to gather the data that he says transportation officials refuse to provide, in hopes of finding justice for the daughter he lost.
"Hannah walked out of our house, and we never saw her again. These accidents are horrific. They are gruesome, and we will never be the same," said Eimers.
News 13 filed a Freedom Of Information Act request through the Federal Highway Administration for data on the X-LITE on Sept. 5, but have not heard back.
News 13 also reached out to the NCDOT for a response to Eimers' concerns, but officials declined an interview.
Lindsay Transportation Solutions' response
News 13 reached out to the company that manufactures the X-LITE. Company officials declined an interview but sent a statement.
"Lindsay Transportation Solutions’ top priority is to provide products that save lives, and we are always saddened when anyone loses his or her life," the statement said.
"X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards and criteria and remains eligible for Federal transportation funding. There is no road safety product that can prevent injury every time a driver fails to stay on the road, and X-LITE’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy is not a defect and does not mean X-LITE is unsafe. A variety of factors contributes to the potential for injury when a driver fails to stay on the road, including speed in excess of Federal testing criteria, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether road safety products are installed and maintained properly.”
The company provided more information on the product from the Federal Highway Administration.