On November 1, 2016, 17-year-old Hannah Eimers was driving her father's car on Interstate 75 when she collided with a guardrail, a Lindsay X-LITE. Instead of deflecting the car or buckling under the force, as it is designed to do, the guardrail impaled the vehicle, striking Hannah and killing her instantly.
Her grieving father, Steve Eimers, has received a $2,970 bill for damages from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). It is addressed to Hannah: $2,600 to install a new guardrail end and $231 to have the new guardrail inspected.
"I'm shocked, the audacity," he said. "What bothers me is that they're playing Russian roulette with people's lives. They know these devices do not perform at high speeds and in situations like my daughter's accident, but they leave them in place."
Eimers, who works as a emergency medical technician, knows that a guardrail is meant to absorb the impact, not rip through the car like a lance.
"It should have been, at worst, a minor-injury accident with property damage — probably little to no injury," Eimers said. "The girl that was with her in the other seat had a little, tiny cut."
The state concurs with Eimers, as the guardrail type in question was removed from TDOT's list of approved products one week before the crash. Although they will not purchase or install any more of the Lindsay X-LITE's, around 1,000 of them remain installed throughout the Volunteer State. Another model, the ET-Plus which was removed for similar reasons in 2014, still has over 21,000 units installed in Tennessee.
The bill was "due to an error in processing. A new letter has been sent to the family to apologize, to explain the error, and instruct that there is no billing," said TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi.
"TDOT greatly apologizes for this mistake. There is no excuse for the letter/bill that was sent, and we will take measures to make sure that this never happens again."
He also said that the state will accept bids for contracts to replace the X-LITEs in areas where the speed limit exceeds 45 mph, although Nagi did not disclose the specifics of the contracts.
X-LITE's are meant to collapse inwards like a telescope when hit from the end, but they remain rigid at speeds over 60 mph. The Virginia Department of Transportation removed the faulty guardrails in late August 2016.
Eimers says that he will work to replace all dangerous guardrails in the state to avoid a repeat of the tragedy. "I've got to be able to look the next mom or dad in the eye and say, 'I tried to make some changes in the culture of TDOT. I tried to get some dangerous devices off the road,'" he said.
On his daughter Hannah, Eimers said that she loved music, having taught herself to play guitar and piano. She spoke several languages and aspired to be an actress. She also loved to make and wear costumes.