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Baton Rouge mom whose son died on Florida highway fought to make major safety changes, now sets sights on home state

2 months 1 week 1 day ago Sunday, April 14 2024 Apr 14, 2024 April 14, 2024 10:23 PM April 14, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Cristy Defilippo is reminded of her son, Hunter, every time she gets in her car. His photo hangs on her sun visor. The 22-year old Baton Rouge native died in a car crash on a Florida highway in 2020.

"Whenever he hit the guardrail, the guardrail did not give way for him. It actually slungshot his truck, causing him to spin out-of-control twice and then that's when it hit the pole on the side of I-75. My son's truckthe undercarriage hit, so it exploded the truck and there was nothing anyone could do to save him," she said.

The tragedy would change Cristy's life in more ways than one.

"I can honestly tell you I never thought I'd be living this life. I never thought I'd be living without my son. I never thought that I would be strong enough to fight on his behalf."

It was when they found out what caused Hunter's fatal accident, that the fight began.

"Guardrails are being 'Frankenstein-ed' on our roads. That means they are being pieced together. They are not being installed properly because of lack of training. That all compromises it for when a vehicle hits it, which is the case of my son."

She admits she never thought twice about guardrails until she got a call from Steve Eimers, whose daughter Hannah was killed in a wreck involving a controversial guardrail in Tennessee.

"Morning of November 1, 2016, an x-lite guardrail speared through my daughters car. She was killed instantly," Eimers said.

According to Steve's research, nearly 1,000 people die in guardrail-related crashes every year. He has dedicated almost all of his free time to becoming an expert on guardrail safety. He's toured the manufacturing facilities and taken training courses on how to properly install them.

He admits he is obsessed.

The guardrail on the Florida highway that Hunter hit was one of the worst he had ever seen.

"I saw one of the most horrific guardrail installations that I have ever documented."

It boils down to a lack of training on how to properly install them, he says.

"We simply have taken an attitude of beating it to fit and painting it to match and these are highly engineered devices and we have no prioritized proper installation and maintenance of these products."

Steve has compiled an entire database of what he considers to be fatal guardrails around the country. He shared with WBRZ his list of the ones he's found in East Baton Rouge Parishin total 33. According to Steve, each of these seemingly small flaws can be deadly if impacted.

"Every single guardrail I sent you has been associated with a death on a roadside in Louisiana or across the United States. Every single one of those 30 plus units that I sentthe manufacturer says if you do it this way, it can result in fatal outcomes."

Together with Steve, Christy made it her priority to get the Florida Department of Transportation to do something about its guardrails.

After several investigative reports done by a Tampa-area reporter, the state agreed to address it.

"By the end of 2023, Florida had fixed over 9,000 guardrail safety issues throughout their Florida highways. They spent over a $100 million to make sure that their highways were to protect the citizens," Christy said.

Christy is hoping for the same results in her home state.

"I want for families to be protected here. I don't want another mom to have to go through this because of someone else's negligence, because of training that people are not equipped with."

While she drives the Louisiana highways, now highly aware of every guardrail she passes, Hunter is there with her to remind her of her mission.

"He's here to protect me so that I can fulfill that."

WBRZ sent Steve's list of Baton Rouge guard rails to DOTD and were told they are coming up with plan to inspect them. We've asked for them to tell us when that plan is complete.

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