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Lawyer seeks state probe of guardrails involved in grisly crashes

Posted February 18
Updated February 25

— The lawyer for a Graham man who lost both legs in a crash on Interstate 40 last month said he plans to sue a company that makes highway guardrails and ask the Attorney General's Office to investigate whether the guardrails are effective.

Jay Traylor was on his way home from Raleigh on Jan. 26 when he fell asleep at the wheel, and his SUV veered off I-40 near Hillsborough and slammed into a guardrail. The guardrail sliced through the vehicle and severed his right leg. Surgeons at Duke University Hospital had to amputate his mangled left leg.

Attorney Steven Lawrence said Tuesday that Traylor would have both of his legs if it weren't for the guardrail, which he claims is dangerous. Lawrence also represents four other people injured in guardrail crashes.

The type of guardrail involved in all of the crashes is called ET Plus and is made by Dallas-based Trinity Industries.

"On any interstate in the state of North Carolina and on a lot of major side roads, you'll see ET Plus terminals everywhere," he said.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Charbonneau said more than 10,000 ET Plus guardrails line North Carolina highways.

The end terminal of the guardrail is supposed to absorb a crash, causing the guardrail to push out to the side. Lawrence said that they used to work that way, but in lawsuits he has filed in other states, he alleges that Trinity reduced the size of its end terminals to save money – without telling highway departments.

Because of the change, the guardrail doesn't collapse properly, he said.

"When you try to push a guardrail through a device that's much smaller, it locks up, impales your vehicle or otherwise violently brings it to a stop," he said.

In Traylor's case, the guardrail came through his floorboard between the accelerator and the brake, barely missed his torso and continued through the back seat, stopping short of the back door of the vehicle.

If the guardrail was designed properly, Lawrence said, "he would've (ridden) down the guardrail, come to a safe stop, and he should've been able to walk away."

Trinity spokesman Jack Todd said that the Federal Highway Administration has reviewed the ET-Plus and approved it for use, and the company plans to fight any lawsuits alleging that its design is defective.

"Trinity has a high degree of confidence in the performance and integrity of the ET-Plus System, which we are proud to manufacture and sell under license from Texas A&M University," Todd said in a statement. "The false and misleading allegations being made ... were reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA reaffirmed its acceptance of the ET-Plus System in October 2012, and its eligibility for use on the National Highway System."

Charbonneau said the DOT has no previous record of any issues with the ET Plus guardrails in North Carolina.

10 Comments

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  • dwr1964 Feb 19, 4:26 p.m.

    The guardrails are there to help prevent a more serious crash....EAMTN

    You are exactly right. So were any other cars/people involved in this crash? Could he have been killed, if he had run into the trees, instead of just the guard rail? Thank you for proving my point.

  • EAMTN Feb 19, 1:44 p.m.

    People have crashes every single day; for many different reasons. The guardrails are there to help prevent a more serious crash. These guardrails are not doing that. They are increasing the frequency of injury and fatality, when otherwise there would be none. Whether or not he was "impaired" is not the story here. You're trying to focus on one crash. Look at that link I provided and see all of the other similar stories.

  • Jump1 Feb 19, 12:05 p.m.

    How fast was he traveling? Most likely he was speeding and caused his own damage, Also if he was driving and fell asleep he should charge for that and yes there is a charge in NC for that..

  • dwr1964 Feb 19, 11:36 a.m.

    EAMTN....So this chap, driving while impaired, should take no blame? And I say IMPAIRED, because driving while tired, is an impairment. I did not say "intoxicated" people. Back to this chap. HE chose to drive. HE fell asleep. HE had a wreck. Now, HE wants a multi million dollar paycheck. Yea...that's justice.

  • EAMTN Feb 19, 11:02 a.m.

    Check out this website

    http://www.failingheads.com/

  • EAMTN Feb 19, 10:58 a.m.

    DWR & THE2RUTH:
    Have you done any research on guardrail heads and what their purpose is? I encourage you to do so, because this type of accident is NOT how they were originally designed.
    Due to the engineering of these guardrails vehicles are being impaled all across the country. Trinity changed the design from a width of 5" to 4". Prior to this guardrails were able to be re-used, but now they have to be replaced; more money for the manufacturer. They tried to file a defamation case against the whistleblower, but dropped it.
    So, I encourage you to do a little research and educate yourself about the dangers of these guardrails.

  • dwr1964 Feb 19, 10:35 a.m.

    Seems that the guard rail did it's job, not allowing any other vehicle, to be involved in this guy's wreck. It is not designed to stop you, the driver, from sustaining any injury. Next, folks will start suing tree makers, for not growing them correctly. Had this guy not the guard rail, who can say what the outcome would be, if he continued into the woods, and bounced off of trees. He is alive. The loss of his legs is terrible, but he still has his life. Why do people continue to blame somebody other than themselves, for the mistakes they themselves do?

  • ncfireman60212 Feb 18, 6:49 p.m.

    wow i never heard that.

  • paulej Feb 18, 6:48 p.m.

    Guardrails are designed to keep you from colliding with on-coming traffic or going off a cliff.... View More

    — Posted by The2ruthHurts

    Yeah, but it should not also serve as a ramming rod that shoves its way through a vehicle, either.

    I've often worried about those metal fences down the 4-lanes roads. They're metal stakes with metal ropes. Just imaging if your car flipped over and landed on its side on one of those stakes. You might have a stake through your head.

    I don't know the right design, but a car should be able to hit these objects and only damage the car, not kill the person inside. That's the point of the lawsuit.

  • The2ruthHurts Feb 18, 6:39 p.m.

    Guardrails are designed to keep you from colliding with on-coming traffic or going off a cliff. It is nowhere designed to be a giant pillow for you to crash against when you (the driver) fail to do your job.