Metro Detroit freeway guardrails linked to driver injuries, deaths in other states

Three lawsuits filed about X-Lite guardrails

As the summer travel season begins in Metro Detroit, there's a growing concern among drivers about a potentially deadly hazard on the roads.

DETROIT – As the summer travel season begins in Metro Detroit, there's a growing concern among drivers about a potentially deadly hazard on the roads.

Three lawsuits have been filed claiming a certain type of guardrail can spear into vehicles on impact, causing injury and maybe even death.

  •  There are 77 X-Lite guardrails in total along the I-275 corridor between I-96, I-696 and Five Mile Road.

The Local 4 Defenders did some digging and discovered the X-Lite guardrails in question are being used in Michigan. The majority of them are found in Metro Detroit.

One incident involved a former Detroit school teacher who died when his car hit an X-Lite guardrail.

William Byrd, 69, was headed to a funeral and driving through Chattanooga, Tennessee, in his SUV when it veered off the road and crashed into an X-Lite guardrail.

"All I see is metal going straight out the back of my dad's vehicle," his son, Malcolm Byrd, said. "They told me my dad was dead on arrival."

Malcolm Byrd isn't the only family member mourning the death of a loved one killed after hitting an X-Lite guardrail.

Gonzalo Martinez, 23, was driving with his brother in Southern California when he swerved off the freeway and wiped out 60 feet of guardrail posts before stopping. Martinez wasn't wearing his seat belt, officials said.

"It was a bad accident," his father, Sergia Martinez, said.

Investigation photos show a guardrail pierced Martinez's windshield, ripping out the headrest of the driver's seat, and came out the back window.

According to California Highway Patrol officials, the guardrail was an X-Lite end terminal made by Lindsay Transportation Solutions.

The X-Lite guardrail was linked to another crash in Tennessee, involving 17-year-old Hannah Eimers.

Eimers' car went off the road and collided with an X-Lite guardrail.

"A guardrail pierced her car and she was killed instantly," her father, Steve Eimers, said.

When a car hits a guardrail, the end terminal, or cap, is supposed to act like an accordion and absorb the car's impact. Video obtained from the Federal Highway Administration shows safety test footage of a vehicle crashing into a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail and what is supposed to happen during a collision.

Investigator photos show something else happened in the crashes involving Byrd, Martinez and Eimers.

The Local 4 Defenders contacted Lindsay Transportation Solutions.

"The X-Lite guardrail end terminal successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal Highway Administration standards," a company statement said, in part. "No guardrail and terminal system can prevent every tragedy."

"I think it should be addressed," Malcolm Byrd said.

The Byrd lawsuit states,"(The) X-Lite end terminal and rail system failed to perform its intended safety function ... 60 feet of guardrail pierced through the vehicle, where Wilbert Byrd was sitting, violently striking Byrd and causing him to suffer fatal injuries."

The Local 4 Defenders obtained records from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) showing there are 90 X-Lite terminals statewide, the majority of which are in Metro Detroit.

According to state records, there are 77 in total along the I-275 corridor between I-96, I-696 and Five Mile Road.

"So we're talking about less than .4% of our total inventory consists of the X-Lite guard ending," said MDOT development director Brad Wieferich.

The Defenders also obtained an MDOT document dated in February 2018 stating that effective immediately and until further notice, damaged X-Lite guardrail terminals must not be replaced with another X-Lite guardrail terminal.

"If that is MDOT's ruling, then why not just get rid of the 90 X-Lite terminals we have now that are mostly here along I-275?" Defender Karen Drew asked. "Why take the chance?"

"MDOT is in the process right now of reviewing the performance of our X-Lites," Wieferich said. "We understand that other states have had issues. We're being very cautious of this. We are, but we need to complete our review to make sure we know what our next move is."

As the state remains cautious, Malcolm Byrd said every driver needs to be cautious, as well.

"All I can say is I wouldn't wish what I'm going through right now on my worst enemy," he said.

There are many pieces to the investigation. You can view the lawsuits filed against Lindsay Transportation Solutions, a list of other companies named, documents obtained from MDOT and a map of the location of Michigan's X-Lite guardrails below.

Lindsay Transportation Solutions released a statement just before this story aired Monday night:

"The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has examined and re-examined the X-Lite and its in-service performance and has gathered input from state departments of transportation across the country. In FHWA's evaluations, the X-Lite has performed consistently with other end terminals on U.S. roads and highways."

Lindsay Transportation Solutions shared a link to a 2017 memorandum from the Federal Highway Administration. Click here to view it.

Lindsay Transportation Solutions also shared this report titled "Safety Analysis of
Extruding W-Beam Guardrail Terminal Crashes" -- view here.

More information

Here's a breakdown of all the X-Lite guardrails in the state:

Number of known X-Lite terminal installations in Michigan (MDOT)

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.