Hannah Eimers was the oldest child in the Eimers family, a beautiful 17-year-old Tennessee teen who taught herself to play the piano and guitar and who spoke several languages.
She loved acting and cosplay, which meant Halloween was a big deal to her. Hannah had been to a costume party and stayed over at a friend’s house, and early in the morning on November 1, 2016, she and her friend were on Interstate 75 headed to school.
— TheImproper Magazine (@TheImproperMag) March 26, 2017
Hannah’s father, Steve, said he’s not entirely sure what happened, but he was told by highway patrol that his daughter drove off the road then attempted to correct the vehicle before the driver’s side door slammed into the guardrail end terminal. Sadly, Hannah died at the scene. But that wasn’t the end of the heartache for the Eimers family.
The Washington Post reported that, a few months after the tragedy, Steve Eimers received a bill from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Steve knew even before he opened the envelope with his daughter’s name on it that something was wrong.
The letter concerned his daughter’s car accident a few months earlier. It stated that, because Hannah was at fault in the November 2016 crash, the state wanted her to pay $2,600 to install a new guardrail end terminal plus $231 to have the highway safety device inspected: a grand total of almost $3,000. In other words, the state of Tennessee was billing the dead teenager for the broken guardrail.
— Michael Crowe (@MichaelReports) March 28, 2017
Steve told the Washington Post that he was absolutely shocked to receive the invoice; after all, Hannah had been dead for almost four months.
“It’s obscene. They will kill you and then they will bill you. The bill was absolutely tasteless. It’s almost comical. It’s like the most obscene comedy skit you can come up with.”
Steve said that for a month after his daughter’s death he walked around in a fog, constantly thinking of his daughter and especially when he drove on the highway. Then, over time, the circumstances of Hannah’s death started to get to him.
After all, he’s seen his fair share of highway wrecks because he’s an emergency medical technician. He knew a sudden impact on a highway could be fatal, but the end-terminal is supposed to crumple, dissipating the force from a crash to make a collision survivable. But his loved daughter Hannah was dead.
“It should have been, at worst, a minor-injury accident with property damage: probably little-to-no injury. The girl that was with her in the other seat had a little, tiny cut.”
— Laura Halm (@WATELauraHalm) November 4, 2016
Steve started doing his own investigation and began researching other crashes like Hannah’s. Today, he’s convinced that the Lindsay X-Lite Terminal (the guardrail system in place) was to blame, and he accuses the Tennessee Department of Transportation of not doing more.
“I’m shocked! The audacity! 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.”
Mark Nagi is a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Nagi said it was just days before Hannah’s accident that the Lindsay X-Lite Terminal was removed from the State’s qualified products list. It seems the department was concerned about how the terminals held up over time, in particular, the parts that are supposed to crumple on impact.
The department wasn’t planning on installing new ones, but there were existing ones in place across highways statewide. Then, later in the year, the department decided to completely remove end-terminals from places with a speed limit greater than 45. This process has commenced, but Nagi said it could be early summer before the process is complete.
Of course, Steve Eimers is very skeptical that the state will do the right thing and sees the letter addressed to his dead daughter as just another sign of incompetence by the agency.
Nagi said the letter was sent due to a “processing error” and that a new letter had been sent to the family to explain the error, apologizing, and advising that there is no billing.
“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.”
— Laura Halm (@WATELauraHalm) November 4, 2016
In the meantime, Hannah’s father plans to go to Nashville to advise legislators about the dangers of the guardrail involved in Hannah’s crash and to advocate for safer ones.
“I’m anticipating a meeting with the Governor, but I’d like federal oversight on this. This could be an extraordinarily deadly device. If my daughter lived in Virginia and this happened, she’d still be alive.”
The Daily News reported that Hannah Eimer was driving her father’s Volvo on I-75 near Niota when the fatal crash occurred.
Her father, Steve, said he was “flabbergasted” that the agency would bill his daughter for the defective device that killed her. According to the Daily News, the guardrail impaled the vehicle instead of deflecting the car or absorbing its impact, resulting in Hannah being struck in the head and chest and pushed into the back seat of the vehicle.
The state Department of Transportation has advised it will begin accepting bids to remove most of the X-Lite rails from state roads, especially in places where the speed limit is greater than 45 mph.
USA Today reported that the guardrail Hannah’s vehicle hit was supposed to collapse like a telescope when hit on the end; however, when speeds are higher than around 60 mph they don’t always work as expected. On the stretch of I-75 where Hannah died the speed limit was 70 mph.
About two months before Hannah’s fatal accident, the Virginia Department of Transportation had removed this model from its approved product list because an independent contractor had performed crash tests and they were concerned about the results.
This concern came to light after whistleblower Joshua Harman won a $663 million settlement against Trinity Industries, saying that, without prior approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the company altered its ET-Plus model terminal.
“It worked perfectly and they changed it for monetary reasons and now it’s killing people. More than 20,000 ET-Plus end-caps remain on Tennessee roads — any number of which could be the more dangerous, altered model. 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.'”
Trinity Industries has since been involved in many lawsuits in which crash victims allege that the unauthorized changes caused vehicles to be speared by the guardrails, resulting in injuries and sometimes death.
[Featured Image by Songkran Wannatat/Shutterstock]