The family of a Maryland Marine killed in a car accident is getting more answers about the deadly crash.
Pfc. Michael Carter Jr., 18, died after crashing into an X-LITE guardrail end terminal on the Eastern Shore. The X-LITE has been the focus of a News4 consumer investigation for months.
Carter was driving northbound on Route 13 in Princess Anne shortly before 8 a.m. Feb. 7 when the accident happened. He was on his way to work at the Marine Corps recruiting office in Salisbury.
Maryland State Police sent its final report to Carter’s family Thursday, and they shared it with News4.
Here are some of the findings of that report:
- Carter was driving approximately 64 mph in a 55 mph zone.
- Carter was wearing a seat belt.
- Carter did not have any alcohol or drugs in his system. Witness statements indicate he may have been drowsy at the time.
- Carter drifted off the left side of the road, was alerted by the rumble strips on the shoulder, and overcorrected to the right.
- Carter’s car began turning in a clockwise rotation and was traveling approximately 42 mph when it impacted the end cap of the guardrail.
- The guardrail head crushed the driver’s side door and “entered the vehicle based on the metal scratch marks on the steering wheel and the bending of the steering wheel.”
- The medical examiner says Carter died of “multiple injuries sustained (as) a driver of a motor vehicle that left the roadway and struck a fixed object.”
The Maryland State Highway Administration will determine whether the guardrail functioned properly in the crash.
“MDOT SHA received the crash reconstruction report from MSP May 31st," SHA Deputy Communications Director John Schofield said. "In keeping with standard procedures, our leadership will evaluate the report and liaise with our Office of Traffic Safety (OOTS) in the coming days to assess the findings and develop a way ahead.”
Carter’s mother, Sandra Johnson-Carter, is asking the state of Maryland to remove the 900-plus X-LITEs already installed on state roads.
“Ms. Johnson-Carter also received the report and reached out directly to us," Schofield said. "We will certainly keep the lines of communication open with her as we go forward.”
SHA will meet personally with Johnson-Carter to go over its conclusions, Schofield said.
Guardrail Under Fire
A number of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer of the X-LITE, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, claiming the guardrail end cap is defective.
News4 found at least eight people have died after hitting X-LITEs. In many of those accidents, the guardrail pierced the vehicle.
X-LITEs are no longer being installed in the United States because they do not meet updated crash test standards known as MASH. But there are still thousands in place across the country. At least 12 states, including Virginia, are actively replacing X-LITES with MASH-compliant products.
Lindsay Transportation Solutions sent News4 the following statement:
"The X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards and criteria and has reduced the number and severity of injuries sustained in automobile accidents. However, it is important to note that guardrail end terminals are designed to mitigate the risk of hitting fixed objects such as utility poles, steep embankments, concrete barriers, and other unyielding objects when a driver fails to stay on the road, but they cannot eliminate all the risks involved with an unintended exit. A variety of factors contribute to the potential for injury when this happens, such as speed, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether road safety equipment is installed and maintained properly."
A Mother's Mission
Sandra Johnson-Carter is making it her mission to have all X-LITEs removed from Maryland’s roads. She’s found support in Delegate Charles Otto, who serves on the Environment and Transportation Committee in Maryland’s House of Delegates.
"If there's alternative barriers, we need to put them in place," he said. "I think it's not just helping their family — nothing's going to bring back their loss — but certainly we can keep other families from suffering the same thing."
Johnson-Carter has also joined forces with another grieving parent in his fight for a national recall of the X-LITE.
Steve Eimers’ 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, died in 2016 after hitting an X-LITE in Tennessee.
"A guardrail pierced her car and she was killed instantly," he said.
Johnson-Carter recently joined Eimers in Tennessee to testify in front of the state legislature. Lawmakers ultimately passed a joint resolution calling for a national recall of the X-LITE, and Tennessee’s governor signed it last month.
"Our research, and repeated calls for information from the states, do not support claims that this specific type of guardrail performs differently than others," the Federal Highway Administration said in a statement.
Lindsay Transportation Solutions says, "It is concerning that Tennessee legislators have used their position to spread fear about a road safety product that has reduced the number and severity of injuries sustained in automobile accidents. Lindsay Transportation Solutions would have welcomed the opportunity to share the facts with the Tennessee General Assembly, but we were never invited or contacted."
Honoring a Hero
Pfc. Carter was recognized by the lieutenant governor of Tennessee.
After testifying in front of Tennessee lawmakers, Sandra-Johnson Carter received a proclamation from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who also serves as speaker of the Senate. The proclamation honors the life of PFC Carter and recognizes him as an American hero.
Carter’s family says the young Marine was honest, caring, loving, humble and hardworking. After completing basic training in October 2017 and combat training in November 2017, Carter volunteered with the U.S. Military Outreach Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Organization, Inc. while waiting for a spot in logistics training. He was awarded two certificates of appreciation for his volunteer work in December 2017.
In January, he was granted special permission to return home to Princess Anne to work as a recruiter’s assistant while he continued to wait for a spot in logistics class. He moved back just two weeks before the crash that took his life.