Deadly guardrails tested by cre­ators

Safety ad­vo­cates: Case re­veals lack of state and fed­eral over­sight

The Commercial Appeal - - Local - TRAVIS DORMAN

At least seven peo­ple have died af­ter their ve­hi­cles struck a faulty type of guardrail end that passed its fed­eral crash tests at a lab­o­ra­tory owned by the com­pany sell­ing the prod­uct.

Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say it's not their job to po­lice such po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est. Safety ad­vo­cates say the case high­lights a lack of over­sight at the state and fed­eral level.

“The foxes guard the hen houses,” said David Kwass, a per­sonal in­jury at­tor­ney based in Philadel­phia who is also a co-chair­man of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Jus­tice’s Guardrail Lit­i­ga­tion Group. “There is no sun­shine, and no ac­count­abil­ity.”

The model of guardrail end, Lind­say Trans­porta­tion So­lu­tions’ X-LITE, has been tied to six crashes, caus­ing seven deaths, in Ten­nessee, Mis­souri and Vir­ginia over the past two years.

In at least three of those crashes, the prod­uct failed to per­form prop­erly, re­sult­ing in ve­hi­cles be­ing skew­ered, state of­fi­cials and ex­perts have said. The prod­uct per­formed as in­tended in one of those crashes, and in the other two, author­i­ties have not said how the guardrails per­formed.

One vic­tim, Han­nah Eimers of Lenoir City, was a 17-year-old as­pir­ing film­maker. An­other, 21-year-old Lau­ren Beut­tel of John­son City, had re­cently ac­cepted an of­fer to at­tend grad­u­ate school for psy­chol­ogy.

The most re­cent — and most grue­some — crash killed 59-year-old Ge­orge Jansen two months ago on an in­ter­state in ru­ral Sa­line County, Mis­souri. He was a sales en­gi­neer, a church mem­ber, a bas­ket­ball coach, a loyal friend, a hus­band, a lov­ing fa­ther of three, and a “goof­ball,” ac­cord­ing to his obit­u­ary.

The Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a fed­eral re­im­burse­ment el­i­gi­bil­ity letter for the X-LITE based on tests per­formed at Safe Tech­nolo­gies Inc. Such letters al­low states that use the prod­uct to re­ceive fed­eral funds.

That lab, based in Cal­i­for­nia, lists an Omaha, Ne­braska mail­ing ad­dress on the Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of State’s web­site. The ad­dress, 2222 North 111th St., is the same one listed for Lind­say Trans­porta­tion So­lu­tions on the Ne­braska Sec­re­tary of State’s web­site.

The name on Safe Tech­nolo­gies’ list­ing is that of Chris San­ders, the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Lind­say Trans­porta­tion So­lu­tions.

A Lind­say rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­sponded to the find­ings Thurs­day by say­ing the com­pany had pre­vi­ously dis­closed its own­er­ship of the lab to the FHWA, and that the X-LITE re­mains qual­i­fied for use on U.S. roads.

"Safe Tech­nolo­gies, Inc. is a whol­ly­owned sub­sidiary of Lind­say Trans­porta­tion So­lu­tions that is fully ac­cred­ited by FHWA to col­lect and present all prod­uct test re­sults, in­clud­ing data and video, to FHWA along with ap­pli­ca­tions for ap­proval," reads a state­ment from the com­pany.

FHWA spokesman Doug He­cox said when the X-LITE's tests were per­formed in 2010, Lind­say had not yet pur­chased the rights to the prod­uct from its in­ven­tor, a New Zealand-based com­pany named Ar­mor­flex. By the time the high­way ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued the letter in Septem­ber 2011, Lind­say had pur­chased the de­sign, he said.

He­cox said the Switzer­land-based In­ter­na­tional Stan­dards Or­ga­ni­za­tion is re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing au­dits to ver­ify that U.S. crash test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries are in­de­pen­dent from prod­uct devel­op­ers.

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