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An Omaha-based manufacturer of guardrail parts used on highways in most states, including Nebraska, is accused of producing a faulty product that can result in vehicles being skewered in high-speed crashes.

Tennessee transportation officials determined certain guardrail end caps made by Lindsay Corp. didn't adequately protect motorists in a pair of crashes that killed three people there last year.

The state stopped installing new Lindsay X-Lite guardrail ends in response to the fatal crashes and decided to replace its existing X-Lite terminals after a third crash in November killed a 17-year-old girl.

Now, families of those who died in the first two crashes are suing Lindsay Corp., claiming its negligence caused the deaths. 

Guardrail ends are usually designed to absorb some impact of a crash by "telescoping" into each other, preventing the guardrail itself from piercing the vehicle. 

Both lawsuits filed Wednesday in Tennessee circuit courts claim Lindsay's guardrail ends failed.

In one case, on Interstate 40 near Crossville on June 29, 2016, the driver of a 2004 Toyota Solara fell asleep at the wheel and crashed head-on into a pair of converging guardrails in the median. Both guardrails pierced the car's front end, killing the driver, Jacob Davison, and a rear-seat passenger, Lauren Beuttel.

In the other crash, on Interstate 75 near Chattanooga on July 2, the driver of a 2015 Ford Explorer drifted off the road and more than 60 feet of guardrail speared the entire length of the SUV, killing front-seat passenger Wilbert Byrd.

Lindsay Corp. said any allegations questioning the X-Lite's safety are "without merit."

"The equipment’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect," the company said in a statement. "There are a variety of factors that contribute to the severity of impact in any instance, such as excessive speed, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether the equipment was installed and maintained properly.”

The X-Lite model has passed its required safety tests, and the Federal Highway Administration has found no reason to deem the devices are unsafe, the statement continued. 

At least seven deaths in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia have involved the X-Lite, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported Wednesday. Missouri has also announced plans to replace its X-Lite guardrails, and other states have said they won't install more.

Nebraska has four X-Lite end caps on its state highways, all on the Platte River bridge south of Central City on Nebraska 14. A Roads Department spokeswoman said the state has no plans to replace them. 

Nebraska did not replace its ET-Plus guardrail end caps manufactured by Trinity Industries, which was fined $663 million by a federal judge in a 2015 Texas whistleblower lawsuit that raised similar concerns as those surrounding the X-Lite.

"We always monitor our products we use to ensure that they are performing adequately," said Roads spokeswoman Jeni Lautenschlager. "If the performance is less than we expect, we will re-evaluate our practice at that time."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zachami.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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