LENOIR CITY, Tenn. — The state of Tennessee erroneously has billed a dead teen nearly $3,000 to replace the guardrail that killed her in a car crash in November.
Her flabbergasted father said he will not pay and also contends the model of the guardrail his daughter struck is poorly designed and dangerous.
Around 5:44 a.m. ET Nov. 1, Hannah Eimers, 17, was driving her father’s 2000 Volvo S80 on Interstate 75 northbound near Niota, Tenn., when the car left the road, traveled into the median and hit the end of a guardrail with the driver’s side door, according to a Tennessee Highway Patrol crash report.
Instead of deflecting the car or buckling to absorb the impact, the guardrail end impaled the vehicle, striking the teen in the head and chest and pushing her into the back seat, according to the report. She died instantly.
Four months later, Steven Eimers of Lenoir City received a $2,970 bill from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, dated Feb. 24 and addressed to Hannah for the cost of labor and materials to install 25 feet of guardrail at the scene of the crash.
“I’m shocked, the audacity,” he said. “What bothers me is that they’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives. They know these devices do not perform at high speeds and in situations like my daughter’s accident, but they leave them in place.”
The guardrail end Hannah hit was a Lindsay X-LITE, a model that the state transportation department had removed from its approved products list just one week earlier.
The bill was the result of “a mistake somewhere in processing,” and the department “greatly apologizes for it,” spokesman Mark Nagi said. Another letter is being sent to explain the error.
The transportation department’s removal of the model from its product list means the agency will not use it in new installations, but roughly 1,000 guardrail ends remain on Tennessee roads, Nagi said.
On March 31, the department will begin accepting bids for a contract to remove most of them in places where the speed limit exceeds 45 mph, Nagi said. He did not disclose the exact number or the cost of the contract.
The guardrail, which is supposed to collapse like a telescope when hit on the end, didn’t always work as expected at speeds higher than about 60 mph, Nagi said. The speed limit along the stretch of I-75 where Hannah died was 70 mph.
The model was removed from state approval Oct. 25.
The Virginia Department of Transportation had removed the model from its approved product list about two months before that because of concerns with the results of crash tests that an independent contractor performed.
The Virginia agency’s emphasis on guardrail safety came after whistleblower Joshua Harman won a $663 million settlement against Trinity Industries (TRN), saying the company altered its ET-Plus model terminal without getting approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
“It worked perfectly and they changed it for monetary reasons and now it’s killing people,” Harman said.
Trinity has since been involved in lawsuits nationwide in which crash victims alleged the unauthorized changes caused the guardrails to spear vehicles, resulting in injuries and deaths.
More than 20,000 ET-Plus end caps remain on Tennessee roads — any number of which could be the more dangerous, altered model, Harman said.
Eimers said he will push authorities to remove and replace all guardrail ends that are deemed dangerous.
“I’ve got to be able to look the next mom or dad in the eye and say, ‘I tried to make some changes in the culture of TDOT. I tried to get some dangerous devices off the road,’ ” he said.
Follow Travis Dorman on Twitter: @travdorman
(Photo: Courtesy of Steven Eimers)