August 21, 2018

After a local freeway accident killed a driver, NBC 7 Investigates looked into one company’s roadside guardrail system and their connection to accidents reported across the country.

On February 17, along Interstate-8 near Jacumba, Gonzalo Martinez and his brother were driving to a surprise birthday party for their aunt. 

The computer data for Gonzalo’s Volkswagen Jetta shows he was driving 75 miles-per-hour, five miles over the speed limit. For an unknown reason, his car swerved off the freeway and wiped out almost 60-feet of guardrail posts before coming to a stop. Gonzalo wasn’t wearing his seatbelt at the time of the crash.

Photos taken by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) show a guardrail pierced through the car’s windshield, ripped out the driver’s headrest and continued through the rear window, extended out at least 20 feet. Gonzalo’s brother, Sergio Jr. was sleeping in the passenger seat, tilted back at the time of the crash. The guardrail just missed Sergio Jr.’s head. 

Firefighters pronounced Gonzalo dead when they arrived on-scene. 

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Photos from the accident scene show the guardrail system that speared through Gonzalo’s vehicle was an X-Lite end terminal, manufactured by Lindsay Transportation Solutions. 

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“I knew something was wrong because guardrails should not pierce vehicles,” Steve Eimers out of Tennessee said. 

Eimers lost his 17-year-old daughter Hannah on November 1, 2016, when her Volvo went off a road and collided with an X-LITE guardrail end terminal, according to Eimers’ attorney. After doing his own research, Eimers concluded the Lindsay Transportation Solutions’ X-Lite was to blame, so he filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. Eimers’ attorney told NBC 7 Investigates they have since voluntarily dismissed the case and they are currently reviewing their options. 

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Carter found, like the Eimers, Blankenships and Martinez families discovered, that her son Michael “was not the only person that had been killed by hitting an X-Lite end terminal.” 

NBC 7 Investigates and NBC 4 Responds in Washington D.C. (WRC) found X-Lite end terminals are no longer being approved by states for installation, including here in California. All states are now requiring stricter crash testing standards, known as MASH, and the X-Lite end terminals are not compliant with those standards, according to the Federal Highway Administration and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).  

Some state safety experts have raised concerns though, given there are thousands of X-Lite end terminal guardrails already installed across the country that could stay in place for years. 

As of this year, 13 states are in the process of removing X-Lite end terminals from their roadways, according to WRC. 

The full investigative report can be accessed here.