CHATTANOOGA (WATE) – On July 2, 2016, Wilbert Byrd was riding in his nephew’s Ford Explorer along Interstate 75 on his way to a funeral when the SUV left the interstate in Hamilton County and collided head-on with a guardrail end terminal.
Byrd’s son and daughter, Malcom Byrd and Kimciana Hunter, say the guardrail system that was supposed to protect their father, actually took his life. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Lindsay Corporation, makers the X-Light Guardrail system, and Cumberland Guardrail, Inc., the company responsible for installing and inspecting the guardrails.
Most guardrails are constructed in multiple pieces designed to “telescope” or slide into each other when struck and absorb some of the impact. The lawsuit claims that when Byrd’s car hit the end terminal it failed to “telescope” and as a result a 60-foot piece of guardrail pierced through the vehicle and violently struck Byrd, causing him to die.
The lawsuit claims the Lindsay Corporation is negligent for failing to adequately test the X-Lite guardrail system, recall the guardrail system and provide proper installation repair, maintenance, and instruction manuals. They also say the Lindsey Corporation manipulating, misrepresented and/or concealed testing data and failed to disclose known problems and defects.
They say the guardrail failed to “telescope” during the accident because it was improperly installed by Cumberland Guardail, Inc., due to the Lindsay Corporation’s failure to provide adequate instructions. Additionally, they say Cumberland Guardrail, Inc., knew or should have known the guardrail was not properly installed and secured so that upon impact at highway speed it would separate.
The families of Laurwen A. Beuttel and Jacob D. Davison have filed a similar lawsuit. The two died during a collision on Interstate 40 in Cumberland County.
On June 29, 2016, Davidson drove his 2004 Toyota Solara off the roadway and collided with an X-Lite guardrail end terminal. A beam from the guardrail pierced through the driver’s side floor board and piercing Davison. The beam entered the trunk area before turning and piercing Beuttel. They both died from injuries.
Lindsay Transportation Solutions issued a statement saying:
“For Lindsay Transportation Solutions, providing products that save lives is our top priority. Any allegations questioning the safety of X-Lite are without merit. X-Lite has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with federal standards and criteria, and remains qualified for use on America’s roadways. Just last month, the Federal Highway Administration examined available end terminal performance data and found no reason to conclude that the devices reviewed, including the X-Lite, are unsafe. The equipment’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect. There are a variety of factors that contribute to the severity of impact in any instance, such as excessive speed, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether the equipment was installed and maintained properly.”
TDOT stopped buying this type of guardrail in October after concerns about its performance. They made that discovery after already replacing the guard rail in Beuttel’s crash with another X-Lite terminal. The Tennessee Department of Transportation now plans to remove from the roads after concerns about its performance.
Beuttel’s family, as well as Steven Eimers, a Lenoir City father who’s daughter also died in a deadly accident, want the state to go a step further. While the Tennessee Department of Transportation is currently in the process of removing the X-LITE guardrail ends statewide, the product remains in use in at least 29 states and Puerto Rico. More than 80 percent of currently-installed devices are found in seven states: Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
More online: Read the letter
The families say since 2016, the X-LITE has been linked to at least seven deaths nationwide in which the device impaled drivers and their vehicles upon impact along high-speed highways and interstates.
“While nothing will bring Lauren back, my family and those of the other victims are committed to doing everything in our power to prevent these avoidable tragedies from reoccurring,” said LaDeana Gambill, Beuttel’s mother. “At the same time, the Lindsay Corporation must be held responsible for its actions, which have already claimed several lives.”
Continuing coverage: Follow along with WATE 6 On Your Side’s coverage of X-Lite Guardrails