The family of an 18-year-old Marine killed in a car accident on his way to work is calling on Maryland to remove the controversial guardrail involved in the crash.
Sandra Johnson-Carter describes her son, Michael Carter Jr., as loving, humble and hardworking.
"I knew whatever the challenge was, he would push 100 percent and make it," she said.
He was the youngest of six children.
"Around his family, he was very quiet,” his mother said. “He didn't have a lot to say, but when he said something, it meant something."
His oldest sister, Jasmine Powell, remembers him as the good kid.
"He never gave my mom any issues,” she said.
He was just starting his career in the Marines when on the morning of Feb. 7, he was driving to the recruiting office where he worked on Maryland’s eastern shore and — for unknown reasons — he swerved off the road and crashed into the end of a guardrail and didn't survive.
"A senseless crash, and I’d lost something that was close to me,” his mother said. “Because he was like my right arm. I did everything with him or for him all his life."
While Carter's family planned a memorial service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery, his mother couldn't stop thinking about the accident. She searched “death by guardrail” online.
"Then I just started reading more and getting more information and come to find out that he was not the only person that had been killed by hitting an X-LITE end terminal," she said.
At least seven other people have died after crashing into X-LITE guardrail end pieces.
Five lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, claiming the X-LITE is defective — in some cases spearing vehicles instead of deflecting them.
Maryland State Police and the State Highway Administration are still investigating Carter's crash, and have not determined whether the X-LITE was at fault. Photos from the accident scene show the guardrail was ripped off.
"Right now, we have no information that indicates it did pierce the vehicle, so that's the whole idea of waiting for the reconstruction report," said John Schofield of the Maryland State Highway Administration.
But Carter's mother isn't waiting.
She's written a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials urging them to remove the more than 900 X-LITES already installed on Maryland's roads.
“You know, how many more Michaels, my son, have to die?" she said.
At least 10 states are currently replacing X-LITES — some due to safety concerns and others as part of an effort to update all roadside barriers to products that meet new crash-test standards.
But Maryland said it has no plans to follow suit.
"We'll certainly continue to listen to our partners in other states going forward, but just because one state does something doesn't mean that we’re going to follow blindly in lockstep behind,” Schofield said. “We're going to make the best decision with engineering and collaboration that we can for the people of Maryland."
That answer doesn't sit well with Carter's mother.
"My son was out, he was serving his country," she said. “And I want his country, I want Maryland, to serve him by removing this product."
The X-LITE is no longer being installed as states move to products that meet updated crash-test standards, but thousands of the guardrail end pieces are already in place across the country.
In a statement to News4, Lindsay Transportation Solutions said:
“Lindsay Transportation Solutions builds road safety equipment that reduces risks for drivers on America’s roads. Lindsay proactively offers a variety of training resources to help states and contractors with proper hardware installation and maintenance, such as road safety tours, a mobile app available in four languages, and onsite training. While X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards, there is no road safety equipment that can prevent injury every time a driver fails to stay on the road. When properly installed and maintained, roadside hardware like X-LITE will reduce the number and severity of injuries sustained in car accidents. Lindsay continues to work collaboratively with road safety stakeholders on national initiatives to enhance safety on America’s roadways.”