Updated: 2:11 a.m. Saturday, July 5, 2014 | Posted: 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 4, 2014

FOX23 INVESTIGATION

Lawsuits begin against ODOT guardrail manufacturer

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Trinity ET Plus Guardrail in West Tulsa
A Trinity ET Plus guardrail after being struck by a drunk driver last May. A former manufacturer tells FOX23 News it was not supposed to bend into a wedge.

By Rick Maranon

TULSA, Okla. —

One out of the nine types of guardrails the Oklahoma Department of Transportation uses across the state is coming under fire for claims by drivers and a former guardrail manufacturer that a design flaw is crippling and even killing drivers.

Drivers and the former manufacturer are suing Dallas-based Trinity Industries for what they say is repeated poor performance issues on the Trinity ET-Plus 4-inch model guardrail that is in place in multiple states and even a few foreign countries.

“I woke up with the guardrail coming through the floor between the brake and the gas pedal,” Jay Traylor said after he fell asleep while driving on I-40 near Raleigh, North Carolina.

Traylor hit an ET-Plus guardrail that folded into a wedge shape on impact, pierced the passenger cabin of his car and severed both of the former Marine’s legs.

In a 911, call Traylor told dispatchers “I’m sorry. They’re not going to make it” when dispatchers asked him to hold on when help was en route.

Traylor made a tourniquet out of his belt and saved his life.

He is now suing Trinity Industries for what he feels is a design flaw.

That was in North Carolina back in January. In May, a drunk driver collided with a Trinity ET-Plus guardrail on Highway 75 near West 41st Street in West Tulsa. The driver hit the guardrail, then the cable barriers separating the north and southbound lanes, and then died in the hospital.

Joshua Harman, oversaw the manufacturing of a similar guardrail to the ET-Plus, and after producing them for three years, he began to notice a pattern in accidents that happened with the guardrail. He ceased production in his factories, replaced the guardrails he felt were faulty, and began to collect evidence across the United States to make the case for a recall.

“They need to understand that this is happening everywhere, and the more this comes to light, the more their voices will be heard, and not just mine,” Harman said.

He showed FOX23 News what he felt were similarities to previous accidents, and the accident that took place last May in West Tulsa.

“What I have seen and witnessed. I'd hit anything else but one of these. These things are not working,” Harman said.

Harman tells FOX23 that in every case he’s documented, the guardrail is not blowing out and stopping the car like a buffer as designed. Instead, the head is failing in mid-collision, causing the rail to bend into a sharp edge that enters the passenger cabin of the car injuring and sometimes killing the driver.

“It defies logic that all of these drivers would intentionally be hitting the four inch model incorrectly in the course of an accident,” Harman said.

FOX23 took Harman’s claims to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

“We put layers of protection up to try to help drivers once they leave the roadway,” ODOT Spokeswoman Kenna Carmon said. “Each accident is going to be looked at differently, and each accident we're going to react differently.”

Carmon tells FOX23 News that the guardrail in the Tulsa crash did not enter the car, and tire tracks show the crash is different from what Harmon has documented before.

“It clipped the edge of the guardrail pulling it back before the car came to rest against the cable barrier system,” Carmon said. “So it appears right now that the guardrail performed as expected and did not malfunction.”

Carmon said the ET-Plus meets ODOT standards set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. She also added that because the guardrail diverted the car off the road and into the cable barriers, ODOT considers the guardrail to have done its job by directing the driver of the car off the road and out of harm’s way, on-coming traffic.

Carmon tells FOX23 that Harman has not come to ODOT with his concerns about the recent ET-Plus crash on Highway 75.

Dallas-based manufacturer Trinity Industries sent FOX23 News the following statement:

The ET-Plus® System continues to be accepted by the Federal Highway Administration for use on U.S. highways.  In the case of the lawsuit that has been filed, the trial is slated to take place in July.  Trinity intends to continue defending itself (and the outstanding reputation of Texas A&M) against Mr. Harman’s allegations in court.

[Trinity Industries] continue(s) to have a high degree of confidence in the performance and integrity of the ET-Plus ® System. 

Trinity Industries goes on to say that every crash is unique and should be looked at on a case by case basis and off multiple factors that happened in crash saying:

Without this and other information pertinent to each incident independently, it is impossible to determine how the end terminal system performed. 

A whistleblower lawsuit between Harmon and Trinity will start in July. Harman tells FOX23 he doesn't want money, just a recall.

The Nevada Department of Transportation tells FOX23 it has removed the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail from its approved qualified products list because of an “unauthorized design change” that took place a few years ago.

NDOT goes on to tell FOX23 that ET-Plus guardrails will not be removed from highways in Nevada, but if one needs replacing, it will not be switched out with another Trinity ET-Plus guardrail.

Trinity Industries tells FOX23 is it working to correct the design change issue.

To see  Harman’s findings, he has made all of his information available at failingheads.com

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