November 6, 2014 — ABC 7 News reports that a 24 year-old Bay Area football star’s death in a head-on collision with the end of a guardrail may have been caused by a defective highway guardrail end-terminal that was supposed to save his life.
Darryl Blackmon died after slamming into a Trinity ET-Plus guardrail in Mill Valley, California while driving home from work at a San Francisco bar at 4:30 in the morning. He was a volunteer football coach in Berkeley and hoped to try out for the 49ers in April.
When Blackmon hit the guardrail, it flipped onto the highway and his Chrysler Sebring continued past, hitting a sign pole and stopping upside-down. Blackmon died in the accident, but safety advocates say he might have survived if it hadn’t been for the ET-Plus guardrail.
ABC News I-Team investigators found that Caltrans did a sloppy clean-up job after the accident, leaving biohazard material on the roadway, but took special care to preserve the ET-Plus end-terminal.
At least 39 states have banned the ET-Plus, but not California. Thousands are installed all over San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and elsewhere.
The ET-Plus is a “safety feature” that is supposed to absorb the impact of an oncoming vehicle, flatten the W-shaped guardrail into a ribbon, and deflect it away from the vehicle in a head-on collision. But in 2005, Trinity Industries, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus changed the design in a way that may have made the guardrail more likely to lock up, buckle, and impale oncoming cars instead of deflecting away. Last month, a jury in Texas found Trinity liable for defrauding the government by failing to disclose design changes or conduct adequate crash-tests.
At least 18 lawsuits have been filed against Trinity Industries since 2005, blaming the guardrails for at least 14 injuries and eight deaths. Ten were filed in 2014 and at least 12 are still pending.
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