Hannah Eimers was killed when a Lindsay X-LITE impaled her car, striking her in the head and chest. (Photo: WBIR)
At least four people in Tennessee have been killed in crashes involving a controversial model of guardrail endcap since 2016, per state records. At the center of this controversy is the Lindsay X-LITE guardrail terminal, which TDOT removed from their approved list of devices back in October 2016, citing “concerns about potential long-term performance issues” when struck at speeds greater than 45 mph. Guardrail terminals are designed to redirect the end of the rail away from cars in the event of a crash. However, some are raising concerns that thousands of devices installed on Tennessee roads can malfunction, skewering the car.
Questions of the X-LITE s safety came to light after Hannah Eimers struck one in the early morning hours of Nov. 1. The 17-year-old was driving along I-75 North in McMinn County when her vehicle left the road. The guard rail impaled the car, striking Eimers in the head and chest. She died instantly, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol crash report.
The bill Hannah’s parents recieved after her death, for the damage to the guard rail on I-75 in McMinn Co. (Photo: WBIR)
“That bill was tasteless,” Stephen Eimers said. “But the real travesty is that TDOT knew that they had a dangerous device on the road. They left it in place and it killed my daughter. And those devices are still on this road today.”
Hannah’s father, Stephen Eimers, recieved a bill for nearly $3000 from TDOT following his daugher’s fatal crash. (Photo: WBIR)
TDOT has apologized for the “processing error,” and said the family does not need to pay the bill. Stephen Eimers told 10News has is now represented by the law firm Cohen Milstein and is considering legal action.
The department estimates about 1,000 Lindsay X-LITEs are installed statewide. At least 3 other people have been killed in crashes where the X-Lite penetrated their vehicle in the last 15 months, according to TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi and data from the Tennessee Department of Homeland Safety and Security. On June 29, 2016, two people were killed on I-40 E in Cumberland County after an X-LITE penetrated their vehicle.
On July 2, 2016, one person was killed near the I-75/I-24 interchange in Hamilton County. Again, an X-LITE terminal pierced the vehicle. In both cases, the damaged rail was replaced with another X-LITE terminal, Nagi said. After Hannah Eimers’ death, and SKT-SP was installed. The X-LITE is not the only guard rail terminal used in Tennessee with a questionable safety record. In 2015, Trinity Industries lost a $663 million lawsuit involved the ET Plus rail endcap. The company was accused of modifying the design without notifying the Federal Highway Administration. Critics said the change made the caps more dangerous, and more likely to impale a car that struck them.
An ET Plus guard rail on I-75. The company that makes the ET Plus lost a $663 million lawsuit in 2015, following claims the devices were not safe. (Photo: WBIR)
This led Virginia to implement a risk-based assessment program to replace terminals that might contribute to more severe crashes. VDOT found four vehicles that had been pierced by modified ET Plus terminals from October 2014 to July 2015. TDOT estimates 21,000 ET Plus endcaps are installed statewide. Any number of them could be the modified design. TDOT has decided to remove any X-LITE devices installed on roads with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour or greater. This is most of the terminals, Nagi said.
The bidding for this contract will begin March 31. Nagi was not able to give a cost estimate or timeline for the project, though he anticipates work may begin in late spring to early summer.
Grieving family billled for guardrail in fatal wreck
ALAMEDA, CA Two brothers with criminal records have been charged with multiple felony counts for a string of five armed robberies at banks in Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley and Fremont, police said.
Russell Bartlow, 53, and Jerron Bartlow, 36, who live together in the 2000 block of 100th Avenue in East Oakland, were arrested in Oakland last Wednesday and were charged last Friday. They’re scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland on April 10 to enter pleas. Berkeley police Officer Mike Parsons wrote in a probable cause statement that the Bartlow brothers were arrested for robberies at a Chase Bank branch in Oakland on Nov. 19, a Citibank branch in Alameda on Dec. 19, a Bank of the West branch in Oakland on Jan. 23, a Chase Bank branch at 1870 Solano Ave. in Berkeley on Feb. 9 and at a bank in Fremont on March 18. A total of at least $40,000 was taken in the robberies, Parsons said.
Security camera footage and motor vehicle records connected the Bartlow brothers to the series of crimes, Parsons said. One of the suspects wore a security guard jacket and was armed with a small-framed black revolver, according to Parsons. In addition, a records check indicated that Russell Bartlow was on probation for a conviction in federal court for a bank robbery, Parsons wrote.
When officers searched the brothers’ home they found a security guard jacket, black cargo pants, black Nike shoes and a small black revolver that were all consistent with what authorities believe Russell Bartlow wore
or used during the bank robberies, Parsons said. Russell Bartlow ultimately confessed to four of the five robberies, including both incidents in Oakland and the incidents in Berkeley and Fremont, according to Parsons.
He also admitted to wearing the security guard uniform and being armed with a revolver during the robberies, Parsons said. Russell Bartlow is charged with nine counts of second-degree robbery and one count each of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance with a firearm and possession for sale
of a controlled substance.
Jerron Bartlow is charged with two counts of second-degree robbery and one count of being an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors say Russell Bartlow has seven prior felony convictions dating back to 1985. They say he has three convictions for armed robbery, two for second-degree robbery, one for second-degree commercial burglary and one for possession for sale of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors say Jerron Bartlow has a prior conviction for possession for sale of cocaine base.
Russell Bartlow is being held in custody in lieu of $1.2 million bail and Jerron Bartlow is being held in lieu of $410,000 bail.
Bay City News; Image by Renee Schiavone, Patch
A crash that caused an Uber self-driving SUV to flip onto its side in a Phoenix suburb serves as a stark reminder of the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles in Arizona, a state that has gone all-in to entice the company by promising minimal government regulation. Friday night’s crash was blamed on the driver of an oncoming SUV that turned left in front of the Uber vehicle carrying two test drivers and no passengers. There were no serious injuries and the driver of the other car was cited for a moving violation. But images of Uber’s Volvo SUV rolled onto its side reverberated heavily on social media. Uber responded by briefly suspending its self-driving cars in its three testing locations Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh as it investigated the accident.
Uber’s self-driving car program is rolling out amid questions about how much government regulation it should endure on issues such as accidents, insurance and reporting instances in which the person behind the wheel in test cars needs to take control of the vehicle. The San Francisco-based startup endured a shaky December rollout in California including running red lights that culminated in a standoff between Uber and state regulators who wanted more transparency and reporting. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey seized the opportunity and used lax regulations to entice Uber, which decided to ship more than a dozen SUVs to metro Phoenix.
“California may not want you, but Arizona does,” said Ducey, who took the first ride as a passenger in Uber’s self-driving cars last month.
Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said the company is operating more than a dozen of the 21 vehicles it has registered in Arizona. Some pick up passengers. In Arizona, companies such as Uber only need to carry minimum liability insurance policies to operate self-driving cars. They are not required to track crashes like the one that occurred in Tempe on Friday or report any information to the state. That means that self-driving test cars are essentially treated like all other cars on the road.
Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in a March 3 interview that the cars are safe and there is sufficient oversight under existing automobile rules.
“There’s a driver in the car,” he said. “The state oversight is: There are not cars without drivers in them.”
John Simpson of the California-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said Ducey has abandoned his responsibility to protect the public by buying into the hype surrounding Uber.
“It’s a fundamental responsibility of a governor of a state to make sure that when companies are using the state’s public highways as their own private laboratories, that there is some obligation to protect public safety,” Simpson said. “There are no rules in Arizona.”
In March, Uber obtained permits for two of its Volvo SUVS to again hit the streets in San Francisco. California’s rules for autonomous vehicles require a $5 million insurance policy, and the companies must reports accidents to the state within 10 days and release an annual tally documenting how many times test drivers had to take over. Also, unlike in Arizona and Pennsylvania, passengers are not allowed to ride in autonomous vehicles in California.
Ducey doesn’t believe self-driving car testing needs extra regulations because drivers can take over if something goes wrong, but his office said Monday after the accident that “public safety remains our top priority and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Kevin Biesty, deputy director for policy for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said the state could set up a system to monitor local police accident reports involving self-driving cars but chose not to do so.
“At this point we don’t see an issue if the vehicles are being operated safely they’ll be responsible for whatever issues arise, just like any driver,” Biesty said. Uber’s SUVs have been tooling around Phoenix and Tempe for more than three months, and police in both cities said they knew of no accidents before Friday. Other companies testing self-driving cars in Arizona include Waymo, a Google spinoff company, and General Motors. Intel has a fleet of self-driving cars that are being tested, although they are not used in autonomous mode on city streets, company spokeswoman Danielle Mann said.
There’s no Arizona state data showing how many accidents the cars may have been involved in or caused. Police in suburban Chandler said the Google cars have been in at least four wrecks over the past three years. None of the GM cars have been involved in accidents, said Kevin Kelly, the company’s spokesman for advanced technology projects. Uber’s recent crash comes amid a series of public-relations woes at the company, including an upheaval of its executive ranks and allegations that it routinely ignores sexual harassment.
The New York Times also revealed the company’s use of the “Greyball” program that helped Uber identify law enforcement agents who may be trying to catch it operating illegally in some places. The company’s chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, subsequently promised Uber would no longer use the program.