HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is creating a plan to remove potentially dangerous guardrails from Virginia’s roadways.
The Federal Highway administration is demanding they all be re-tested soon. Many families nationwide want to know if the outcome of accidents could have been different if Trinity Industries, Inc. never made what’s been described as secret design changes to guardrail treatments that went undetected for years.
10 On Your Side has done a series of stories since the beginning of October digging deeper into the problems with modified E-T Plus guardrail treatments and the fallout from what is being called a design flaw. A federal jury found that cost-cutting changes Trinity made could turn some guardrails into deadly spears capable of piercing your car instead absorbing the blow to save your life.
Michael Scott was in an accident in October 2009.
The guardrail actually came through the driver’s side wheel well right in between the engine block. It came in, went through the fire wall, the bottom of the dash, right between my legs. It broke the back seat rest of my seat and finally stopped at the back seat. I was literally just sitting on top of it like I was straddling it.
He wasn’t just seconds, but also inches from losing his life. Michael was on Route 17 heading home when he veered off the road and hit the guardrail head on. His truck was totaled. He was badly bruised.
“By about the third day my whole leg was just purple,” said Scott. “I couldn’t really walk too well.”
He never really wondered why the guardrail did so much damage until he heard 10 On Your Side’s reports of Trinity Industries’ design changes to the ET-Plus guardrail end treatments a Virginia man argued in court could be dangerous, even deadly, upon impact. Those modifications were made in 2005, four years before Michael’s accident. Things really hit home for him when he heard VDOT admit that unbeknownst to them, the modified, unapproved ET-Plus guardrail treatments had been installed on our roads. VDOT says they didn’t find out about Trinity’s design changes until 2013.
We did not keep detailed inventory on the specific brands of the guardrail end treatments that were used.
“I know I’m the one who hit the guardrail but maybe it could have turned out a bit differently,” said Scott.
He’s not the only one who’s recently had that thought. Almost two years to the day after Michael’s accident in Suffolk, Donna Coster’s son, Adam, died along I-64 heading home to Hampton.
“It was October 9, 2011,” said Donna Coster. “He hit a guardrail and he died at the scene. I don’t know if it was one of the guardrails because apparently Virginia doesn’t know either. It’s just three years that he’s gone. Sometimes it feels like yesterday and some times it feels like a million years ago. There’s just no way to explain what it’s like to lose a child.”
Donna contacted 10 On Your Side after hearing VDOT also admit that 11,000 guardrails have been installed since Trinity Industries’ modifications to the ET-Plus. VDOT Spokeswoman Marshall Herman provided this reply:
Herman said VDOT has no record of where each company’s product has been placed. They’re working on figuring that out now, so they can remove Trinity’s ET-Plus from Virginia’s roads, a move Trinity strongly opposes. The guardrail at the site of Adam’s death has Trinity’s product name and at the site of Michael’s crash, Trinity’s company name is clearly marked.
“If it was something that happened in 2005 and somebody goes out there today and they saw something that says Trinity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what they may have struck in 2005 was a Trinity product,” said Herman. “If someone feels like they may have struck one of these guardrail end treatments, VDOT has no way of telling you whether you did or not.”
VDOT says they make upgrades on guardrails, repair and replace them often. That is hard to hear for people looking for closure.
“I know he wants us to go on and that’s the hard part, because it’s just very difficult to go on,” said Coster. “Our life is changed forever. Nothing will ever be the same.”
They may never get the answers they so desperately seek. It could be very difficult to prove the modified ET-Plus was there when an accident happened before now. However, if you’ve had a recent accident where you made impact with the guardrail end treatment, which is the part where the guardrail begins, or if anything like that ever happens in the future, call VDOT’s customer service center 1-800-For-Road (367-7623).
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is now calling for re-testing of the ET-Plus guardrail end treatment as VDOT prepares their plan to remove them from our roads. The FHWA said Trinity Industries, Inc. submitted a plan for re-testing this past Friday. They are hoping to begin those tests within the next few weeks. Trinity says it has stopped shipment of the ET-Plus System and is moving swiftly to start that testing. Count on 10 On Your Side to keep you updated.