CLEVELAND — They’re meant to be safety barriers when tragedy strikes, but 3News Investigates found ET Plus guardrails, that were even questioned by its own manufacturer, remain on more than a thousand Northeast Ohio roads.
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The journey to a stable life today has been a winding road of challenges for Amy Vitelli.
Behind the smile is a story and scars that serve as daily reminders of how her life changed in a matter of seconds.
“I shattered this part of my leg,” Vitelli described. “Up from about here to here, I lost all that muscle. My leg doesn't straighten all the way.”
It was early morning November 24, 2012. Vitelli wrapped up an overnight shift at MetroHealth Hospital, where she worked as nurse.
“Somebody had said the roads were icy,” she said.
Driving on I-71, Vitelli lost control of her car. While veering off the highway, she can see she’s headed toward a guardrail.
“I hit a patch of ice,” she said. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to hit this guardrail, I’ll be fine.’ Within 20 minutes, I was coming back as a trauma.”
With a shattered left leg, shattered ribs, a broken pelvis, and part of her thigh missing, Vitelli was rushed back to the same hospital she just left.
“[The guardrail] came up through the front driver's side wheel well, straight through the driver's seat and out through the back window,” Vitelli described. “My coworkers that had just said goodbye to me didn't recognize me as I was being brought in.”
The guardrail Vitelli hit was manufactured by Trinity Industries, a Dallas-based company.
It’s the same company that manufactures “ET Plus” guardrails, which have also claimed the lives of drivers across the country, including recently here in Cleveland last November.
A 46-year-old Brooklyn man was killed after crashing into an ET Plus end terminal on I-71 north. Nearly 200 feet of the guardrail speared the car.
Lawsuits over ET Plus guardrails have been filed in several state, some of which ended in million-dollar settlements.
ET Plus guardrails are no longer manufactured, but 3News Investigates found they’re still on Northeast Ohio roads.
The Ohio Department of Transportation confirmed nearly 1,570 ET Plus guardrails line the roads in 17 Northeast Ohio counties, including Ashland, Ashtabula, Crawford, Cuyahoga, Erie, Geauga, Huron, Lake, Lorain, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Trumbull, and Wayne counties.
Our 3News Investigation uncovered emails dating back to 2005, when then-Trinity Industries President Rodney Boyd wrote, “What will be our liability exposure if someone has an accident, and the folded rail enters into the vehicle and kills or maims someone. Then the lawyer find the crash test and says it is inherent to the design for this to happen. It did it during the crash test.”
“This shouldn't be normal,” guardrail safety advocate Steve Eimers told 3News Investigates.
Eimers has dedicated his life to guardrail safety and evolution after his daughter, Hannah, 17, was killed instantly in November 2016 by a X-Lite guardrail in Tennessee.
“We have equipment that at a minimum has been called into question in multiple spearing crushes, and we have equipment," Eimers said.
For Vitelli, she’s come a long way in 10 years.
“It was trying to get back to normal, you know, just doing stuff with the kids and that's when it really hit, like, I can't do things,” she said. “I feel like people, you know, making judgments or looking. It was, that was really rough”
Vitelli now uses those same hardships now to inspire other.
“You feel like my life's over, but seeing somebody who's thriving, who's able to work, it’s encouraging,” Vitelli said.
3News Investigates did request ODOT’s records of ET Plus guardrail replacements. The request has yet to be fulfilled.
In the meantime, the agency says ET Plus guardrails in place now will only be replaced by a different guardrail if damaged.
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