4 Tennessee deaths in 2016 linked to guardrail system

Deadly crash on Interstate 75

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Tennessee Department of Transportation says the type of guardrail that was involved in a crash killing a Lenoir City teen, was involved in at least two other crashes.

Hannah Eimers died in November when her car went off the road along Interstate 75 in McMinn County, hitting a guardrail. The end of the rail pushed her body into the back seat.

Hannah Eimers (source: family)

The type of guardrail system that was involved in the crash was an X-Lite guardrail end terminal. Hannah Eimers’ father, Stephen Eimers, said he believes that’s the guardrail that killed his daughter.

TDOT said they pulled that type of end terminal from their list of approved equipment just six days before Hannah Eimer died because there were concerns about its performance. There are approximately 1,000 X-Lite Guardrail end terminals installed across Tennessee.

“We started seeing some behavior during crashes, they weren’t collapsing the way we thought they were supposed to,” said TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges.

The X-Lite end terminals are a relatively new piece of equipment, introduced in Tennessee within the last 18 to 24 months. During the October analysis, TDOT brought in the manufacturer for more training with inspectors to make sure the X-Lite system was being installed up to code.

“The types of crashes we’re experiencing with these things appear to be at higher speeds and angles that these products were not tested to withstand,” added Degges.

Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Transportation says three other people died in 2016 when the guardrail penetrated their vehicle. On June 29 two people died after hitting the guardrail on Interstate 40 East in Cumberland County and on July 2 a driver was killed in Hamilton County on Interstate 75 near the Interstate 24 interchange.

TDOT tell us those two guardrails were replaced with other X-Lite terminals, because both fatal crashes happened before October 2016 when X-Lite was removed from their Qualified Product List.

Information from TDOT and includes all guardrail end terminals, not just X-Lite terminals.

 

Degges said the products are accepted based on crash testing criteria that was established at the time of their approval, but since this fall he says test protocols that the X-Lite end terminals passed under are not longer accepted. They now follow stringent testing, which was originally not set to be accepted nationally until 2019.

“I would not tell anybody that they need to be afraid to drive up and down the road,” said Degges. “Certainly we all need to be careful. but we believe we can make the Tennessee state highway system incrementally safer.”

The Eimers family tells us they’ve now hired an attorney, Ted Leopold of Cohen Milstein, and they say Hannah’s story is now reaching national news outlets. Stephen Eimers says through Hannah’s death, so many will be able to live.

Since this investigation started, we’ve been wanting to hear from the manufacturer of the X-Lite end terminal, the Lindsay Corporation. On Tuesday we received a statement from Scott Marion, President of its Infrastructure Division, offering thoughts and prayers to the Eimers family and saying that safety is the company’s number one priority.

The statement notes that the X-Lite guardrail terminal has successfully passed crash and safety tests per federal standards and is qualified for use on the road. Marion’s statement also offers this point, “It is widely recognized that there are impact conditions that exceed the performance expectations of all safety equipment. Without understanding the complete details of an accident, there is no additional information we can offer.”

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