ATLANTA — Guardrails across the state are being inspected right now after 11Alive Investigators uncovered potential hazards on Georgia highways.
Our investigation began in April, exposing the problem of 'Frankensteined' guardrails, a term given to guardrails that are improperly installed with mixed parts from different manufacturers. When the wrong parts are put together, the guardrail can malfunction and spear vehicles on impact. Because of that investigation, the state is working to find and remove those guardrails.
Most people may not give a second look at the guardrails they pass on their way to work, school or home. Cathy and Mark Alonzo do.
"How are you just driving down the road and all of the sudden your car is impaled by a guardrail?" Cathy said.
The couple's daughter, Isabella, died after she crashed into a Frankensteined guardrail on I-75 in Peach County.
During our investigation, we found at least three more Frankenstein guardrails on various highways in Georgia. We told the Georgia Department of Transportation about our find, and they said, "We do not believe this reflects a widespread issue."
Since then, our investigation uncovered even more Frankensteined rails with the help of a road safety advocate, Steve Eimers. Eimers said he found about three dozen more on the state's highways.
"And I have not covered but a fraction of the roads in Georgia," he said.
Eimers' daughter, Hannah, died after a guardrail speared her car in a crash. He now dedicates his life to addressing road hazards like Frankensteined rails. He said the fact that he found dozens more of these improperly installed guardrails means there are likely hundreds of them across the state.
"I want them fixed. They need to be fixed. It doesn’t need to be fixed when somebody hits it; it needs to be fixed before somebody hits it," Cathy Alonzo said.
As dangerous as the guardrails are, spotting them is tough for the average person. But to people trained to inspect guardrails, like many GDOT workers, it should be noticeable.
GDOT wouldn't go on camera but announced a statewide inspection of every guardrail following our investigation. That investigation is underway. It won't bring back Isabella Alonzo, but it may spare other families from that same pain.
"It’s just devastating," Cathy Alonzo said. We lost a child. Her brothers lost a sister. Her grandparents, her friends. People really loved her."
The inspection is slated to end this summer.
Frakensteined guardrails are not the only hazard the state is looking for. This inspection will look for any unsafe or improperly installed guardrails.
11Alive asked GDOT to let us come along, so we see the process. GDOT declined our request.
New safety advances
Also, as a result of our investigation, a company that manufactures guardrails is now labeling its part to help prevent Frankensteining.
Spig Industry, based out of Virginia, started adding stickers to its SGET terminals this month. Vice President of Design and Manufacturing, Donald L. Monin, Jr, said the company was talking about labeling l its parts to make sure they weren't installed upside-down or misidentified, but after 11Alive's investigation on Frankensteined guardrails started raising awareness about the issue nationwide, Monin Jr. said it expedited that process.
"We're always open to recommendations and concerns when it comes to safety," Monin Jr. said.
Monin Jr. said the added cost is nominal, and he hopes other guardrail manufacturers will follow Spig's lead and label their parts as well.