Three months after a young Marine from Maryland died in a car accident involving a guardrail end piece that’s been the focus of a News4 consumer investigation for months, his mother still waits for the results of an investigation and campaigns for the removal of the guardrail from all roads.
Sandra Johnson-Carter’s son, Pfc. Michael Carter Jr., 18, died after crashing into an X-LITE end terminal Feb. 7 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“I just never thought that I would be going through this ever in my life,” Johnson-Carter said.
A number of lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturer, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, of the guardrail end cap claiming it is defective.
Maryland is still investigating Carter's crash and hasn't determined what role the guardrail played in his death, but his mother has already started her fight to have the product removed from Maryland's roads. She carries her son's photo and military boots everywhere — a reminder of the battle she's now fighting.
State highway officials will determine whether the guardrail functioned properly once they receive the final report from Maryland State Police. A preliminary report said that would take 30 to 45 days to complete. Later, News4 learned it could be 90 days.
News4 asked Gov. Larry Hogan about it after not getting answers from Maryland State Police
“I know that's still under investigation so we're not really able to talk about it,” Hogan said. “I don't have any more details than you do.”
News4 let the governor know Carter's family had never been contacted by his office nor the State Highway Administration about the investigation. Later that day, his mother received a phone call from the SHA.
“He offered his condolences to the death of Michael and again repeated the fact that Maryland would not knowingly have products out there that would cause the loss of life,” she said.
Then she got a letter from Hogan, saying in part, “It was recently brought to my attention that you have not been satisfied with the state's response to your inquiries regarding Maryland's use of X-LITE guardrails. For that, I apologize. We should have done better."
Then state police told News4 the final report is expected in the “near future,” and Johnson-Carter received a phone call from the investigator, saying he hoped it would be complete this week.
“I definitely feel that if News4 was not on top of this that this would have been a problem that would have been swept under the rug and just went away,” Johnson-Carter said.
News4 found at least seven other people died after hitting the same type of guardrail.
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.
There's a new push for a national recall, and Johnson-Carter is on the front lines of the fight.
“I'm not going to stop,” Johnson-Carter said. “I'm not going to give up this fight. I'm going to write letters to everyone who I think could have a role in having this product removed.”
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 week.
"I want Maryland to act like the state of Tennessee," Johnson-Carter said.
She is pushing the state to remove the hundreds of X-LITES already in place in the state and she's found support in one lawmaker.
"I have gotten a positive response from Del. Charles Otto," she said.
Otto 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."
The X-LITE does not meet the new, updated crash test standards, so it's not being used on new projects, but there are still hundreds on Maryland and Virginia roads.
"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."
Statement From Maryland State Police:
A detailed investigation into the single-vehicle crash that killed Michael Carter on February 7, 2018 on Rt. 13 near Rt. 529 is continuing. The investigation involves a thorough crash reconstruction that is being conducted by the Maryland State Police Crash Team. Detailed crash reconstructions usually take months to compile to ensure accuracy and completeness. The length of each investigation varies and a specific time frame for completion cannot be identified.
Since this crash occurred, Maryland State Police crash investigators have been in contact with and available to members of Mr. Carter’s family. The lead investigator has provided Mr. Carter’s mother with information about the crash investigation. Family members were provided contact information to reach the lead investigator with any questions they had.
At this time, the investigation indicates Mr. Carter was possibly falling asleep when his car veered onto the left shoulder of the highway. He then overcorrected and the vehicle went into a spin as it crossed the highway. Evidence indicates this was a side impact crash with initial impact with the guardrail occurring on the left side of the vehicle. The vehicle then counter-rotated off the guardrail and into the ditch off the right side of the highway. Alcohol and drugs were not a factor in this crash. Mr. Carter was wearing a seatbelt.
The Maryland State Police is aware of and sympathetic to the grief the family of Michael Carter is experiencing as a result of this tragic loss of life. He was obviously a young man full of promise who was committed to serving his country. We remain committed to completing a thorough investigation that documents evidence of how this crash occurred.
Statement From Gov. Larry Hogan's Office:
"First and most importantly, Governor Hogan offers his sincerest condolences to Ms. Johnson-Carter on the loss of her son. Private First Class Michael Anthony Carter Jr. is a fallen hero and his sacrifice for our state and our nation will not be forgotten.
"The tragic accident that led to Michael Carter’s death is currently under investigation by the Maryland State Police. The Maryland State Police investigator assigned to the case contacted Ms. Johnson-Carter and provided his direct contact information.
"The governor’s office attempted to contact Ms. Johnson-Carter via phone after she left a voicemail message last month, but was unable to reach her at the phone number provided. Our office apologizes for being unable to connect with her at that time.
"Governor Hogan has directed the Maryland State Police to continue to keep Ms. Johnson-Carter updated on the progress of the investigation, and the governor will be contacting Ms. Johnson-Carter directly as well."
Statement From Lindsay Transportation Solutions:
"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. Further, it is unacceptable that they have acted without consulting publicly available performance data of the X-LITE, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), or even road safety experts. Lindsay Transportation Solutions would have welcomed the opportunity to share the facts with the Tennessee General Assembly, but we were never invited or contacted."
Statement From Federal Highway Administration:
“The FHWA encourages states to perform in-service performance evaluations and make data-driven decisions about their roadside safety hardware. Through the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), state departments of transportation develop crash-test criteria for guardrails. States decide which safety hardware to install on their roads and are responsible for maintaining that hardware. Our research, and repeated calls for information from the states, do not support claims that this specific type of guardrail performs differently than others. States nationwide are adopting new standards for guardrail W-beam terminals created by AASHTO which will fully be in place by June 30. After that date, FHWA will only reimburse states for guardrail W-beam terminals that meet the new standards. Letters of eligibility for guardrail W-beam terminals meeting older crash-test criteria will no longer be valid for reimbursement purposes.”