Local News

Trooper: I-540 wreck could have been worse without steel bar

Posted December 2, 2013
Updated December 3, 2013

— A steel bar hanging from the rear of a tractor-trailer stopped along westbound Interstate 540 might have meant the difference between life and death for a man injured in a collision that backed up traffic for more than 10 miles during the morning commute on Monday.

The wreck was part of a chain-reaction crash that happened about 6:30 a.m. near the Leesville Road exit when the driver of a pickup truck hit a Dodge Challenger, causing it to sideswipe the 18-wheeler.

A Toyota Prius, driven by Brandon McLain, 23, then hit the rear of the tractor-trailer, which had stopped in a right lane and had its hazard lights on.

First Sgt. Jeff Gordon with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said that without the tractor-trailer's rear underride guard – a beam preventing cars from sliding completely under larger vehicles during a collision –the wreck could have been worse.

"We do have somebody who is, in fact, living and breathing today," Gordon said. "There's no doubt in my mind that that bar had a significant impact as far as preventing further injuries."

McLain, who was charged with failing to reduce speed, was taken to WakeMed, where he underwent surgery. Neither the extent of his injuries nor his condition was available Monday afternoon, but Gordon said the injuries weren't life-threatening.

With the Prius' front wedged beneath the tractor-trailer, the Challenger's driver, Tristan Richards, said he assumed McLain was dead, but when he went to check, he found him alive and talking.

"I heard a voice come from inside of the car, 'Yeah, I'm fine. My neck hurts, but I'm fine,'" Richards said. "I was amazed. I don't see how there's any way he didn't die."

"If it weren't for that bar, probably, the whole car would have been demolished," he added.

Both state and federal laws require the underride guard as a measure to help prevent deaths in such cases. Data from Florida and North Carolina have shown a substantial decrease in fatalities as a result, Gordon said.

State law dictates that semi-trailers larger than 48 feet must be equipped with the barrier and extend 4 inches from the semi-trailer and be at least 30 inches off the ground.

"If the vehicle does strike the back of the tractor-trailer, it prevents it from going as far under the trailer and sometimes lessens that impact," Gordon said. "But those type of bars can only do so much depending on the speed of the vehicle and some other factors that go into a collision."

The tractor-trailer's driver, Walter Gardner, of Goldsboro, was also taken to a local hospital but was later released.

Charged with failing to remove his vehicle from the lane of travel, Gardner told WRAL News that he was trying to get off the roadway but feared that he would cause another accident with the amount of traffic passing him on both sides.

A truck driver for 20 years, he said he was on his way to Durham with a delivery for Bojangles' when the wreck happened.

It was his first accident, Gardner said.


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  • DJ of Clayton Dec 3, 2013

    @cbs79132- I used to share your sentiments regarding the newer cars, but 38 years as a firefighter and paramedic have taught me otherwise. It is personified in this video-


    Simple fact, these newer, lighter weight cars are actually safer than the older Land Yachts.

  • kcfoxie Dec 3, 2013

    1cent+1cent: Small, lightweight vehicle? It's nearly 3,000 pounds... I don't consider that "light weight." It's just as heavy as a modern Ford Taurus. Light weight would be sub-2500 pounds. Very few cars actually meet that today thanks to safety requirements.

  • kcfoxie Dec 3, 2013

    ginufine3011: the Prius didn't turn it's hazzards on (or it may have, most German cars automatically deploy hazzards on a hard brake or instant-stop occurance), the SEMI had it's hazzards on and he didn't even notice.

  • ginufine3011 Dec 3, 2013

    I'm amazed at the fact that the guy in the Prius was alert enough to turn on his hazard lights. That would've been the last thing on my mind.

  • 68_dodge_polara Dec 3, 2013

    "It offered little resistance for even this small light-weight vehicle. Believe your own eyes! The safety effectiveness is minimal due to its weakness. It's only there to reduce big-rig liability."

    Actually as the article stated the bar did it's job very well. The reason part of it came off is that the impact was quite severe. If you look at these bars one will see that they are quite strong these days, stronger than most cars that hit them as you can see from the picture.

  • A person Dec 3, 2013

    Those steel bars have been around since the 1970's, so how is that news. fact is that paying attention would have avoided the accident entirely

  • DaddysAngel27 Dec 2, 2013

    I would like to know the charges of the driver who caused this to happen!?!?

  • whyalltheproblems Dec 2, 2013

    where the Heck are the charges for the person driving the pick-up truck who Started the whole chain reaction?!?!
    So very glad the driver of the Prius is ok, but hate that he is being charged. For crying out loud, talk about adding insult to injury.

  • cbs79132 Dec 2, 2013

    Exactly why I drive an older car. Not buying a plastic car. Don't care what my old beater looks like.

  • lwe1967 Dec 2, 2013

    A very fortunate young man. He is breathing and has non-life threatening injuries. Yes, very lucky!