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

Lawsuits claim X-Lite guardrails can spear into vehicles on impact

DETROIT – Crews are working to repair dozens of Metro Detroit guardrails after the Local 4 Defenders revealed that they were linked to lawsuits involving driver injuries and deaths in other states.

The Defenders broke the story about the X-Lite guardrails early this summer. There were 90 X-Lite guardrails in Michigan, most located along I-275.

X-Lite guardrails were named in three lawsuits linked to the deaths of drivers or passengers inside vehicles that struck the guardrails, officials said. In those instances, the guardrails pierced through the vehicles, according to authorities.

This week, crews are out replacing those guardrails.

Retired Detroit school teacher William Byrd, 69, was driving through 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.

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 and Martinez.

Lindsay Transportation Solutions reached out to the Defenders after seeing social media posts about our story.

“Michigan has confirmed that they have had no negative experiences with the X-LITE. Further, 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

"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."

After obtaining records from the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Defenders found 77 X-Lite guardrails along the heavily traveled I-275.

“We need to complete our review to make sure we know what our next move is," MDOT development director Brad Wieferich said at the time.

Now, five months after the investigation, officials are taking action, replacing those X-Lite guardrail ends. Defender cameras were rolling along I-275 this week as crews removed and replaced the guardrails in question.

Malcolm Byrd said this is a change he’s been hoping and praying for.

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

An MDOT spokesman said 57 of the guardrails are being replaced on I-275. He said nine were previously replaced as maintenance projects.

The contract amount is $274,189.51, and the work is expected to be done by mid-December, an MDOT spokesman said. He said there were no issues with the endings on Michigan state trunklines, but MDOT leaders made the decision to replace them out of an abundance of caution.

Here is a statement from Lindsay Transportation Solutions:

Beginning July 1, 2018, new crash-testing standards for road safety equipment, including guardrail end terminals, started going into effect nationwide and states continue to transition to the new MASH standard as budgets and other factors permit. This includes replacing products, like the X-LITE, that were approved under the previous standard. Michigan has confirmed that they’ve had no negative experiences with the X-LITE. Further, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) evaluations demonstrate the X-LITE performs consistently with other end terminals on U.S. roads and highways."

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.

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.