Clay crash victim questions safety of Kentucky's guardrails

MANCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - Just weeks after Kentucky banned the installation of a type of guardrail alleged to be defective, a Clay County man lost his leg after a guardrail sliced through his car.

On November 14, Chris Cavanaugh was on his way to pick up his daughter in London when he says he hit mud that had come off a tractor and slid into the guardrail.

“Everybody we talk to [says] when it made impact with the car, it was supposed to have folded up like a bendy straw. If it would have done that it would have stopped the car,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh isn’t sure if the guardrail was made by the same company at the center of a national investigation.

In October, a ruling by a Texas jury prompted 30 states, including Kentucky, to temporarily ban the installation of the ET Plus guardrail head.

The jury found that the manufacturer, Trinity Highway Projects of Dallas, defrauded the federal government by making design changes to the guardrail, possibly causing it to malfunction.

Trinity was found liable for defrauding the Federal Highway Administration, which didn’t find out about the potentially dangerous change for more than two and a half years.

That federal lawsuit was filed by Josh Harmon, who met with WKYT to look at guardrails in Southern Kentucky.

What’s at issue, Harmon said, is that in the mid-2000s Trinity changed the dimensions of the guardrail end treatments from the approved 5-inch model to a 4-inch model.

"The four-inch always fails,” he told WKYT. “I've never found a four-inch to work."

Trinity was recently found guilty of fraud and ordered to pay $175 million, which will be tripled under federal law. But Harmon said the danger is still on the road. Kentucky is among the states that is trying to figure out what to do next. The issue has grabbed headlines and been on newscasts across the country.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet estimates that there are hundreds of ET Plus guardrail heads, alleged to be defective, lining the edges of state roadways. But transportation officials say they don’t know where the ET Plus guardrail heads are located.

“The brake pedal went through this foot,” Cavanaugh told WKYT has he pointed to 12 stitches in his right foot. Cavanaugh also broke three ribs in the crash.

“We had only been married for four months. We had made all these plans,” said Carolyn Cavanaugh about those dreams that includes traveling to new places in their new 2014 Camaro.

“You don’t know how quickly everything can change,' said Carolyn Cavanaugh

The couple says they are seeking legal action in the wake of the crash.

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