Grieving family disappointed with safety progress

Carroll Lee Eames Jr. died Nov. 27 after he leapt over a barrier to avoid oncoming traffic. (picture courtesy Eames family)

December 21, 2009 9:00:00 PM PST
The Eames family is not happy with the NC DOT's progress to make a section of I-440 safer after a fatal accident.

Lee Eames died after falling from the highway into Crabtree Creek the day after Thanksgiving.

Eames had pulled over to help victims of a wreck. To avoid being hit by other traffic, he jumped over a concrete median, thinking both the inner and the outer beltline were connected. He fell through a 4-foot gap between the barriers.

"We don't really feel much like celebrating this year," Eames' sister, Marie Tanner, told ABC11 Eyewitness News.

The Johnston County family is upset that nothing has been done to fix the situation, and they worry that what happened to their loved one could happen to someone else.

Tanner admits the family is "disappointed, mostly, in our government and our state."

Within a week of her brother's death, the DOT announced it would install protective fencing where Eames fell. However, the DOT would have to follow procedure for bidding out the contract. The work would have to be complete by February.

The DOT is on track to do that, but for a family that's still grieving, that's not good enough.

"They should've done something at least temporary," Tanner said. "It takes, what, an hour to go out there, slap something on there? At least temporary, you know, it doesn't even have to stay there -- just something for keeping someone from going over. With so many people on the road right now, it's very dangerous."

Part of her frustration is the fact that there was a similar tragedy four years ago when a man named Todd Fletcher fell to his death -- also while trying to help others.

The DOT decided to put up a fence on the Inner Beltline side, but not on the Outer Beltline side.

Tanner knows she can't get her brother back and hopes there isn't another tragedy before the other fence goes up.

The tragedy also prompted the state DOT to look into the safety of highways with parallel bridges, which make up 14 percent of bridges across the state.

After analyzing the state's 1,900 parallel bridges, the DOT decided that better education, not more fencing would better protect the public.

"In looking back we have just found a handful of these instances which we are still looking into the cause, but it doesn't appear that this is a problem statewide," State Hwy. Administrator Terry Gibson said.

Authorities will still install a protective fence on the particular section of I-440 where Eames fell, but they say adding fencing statewide would be too costly under such rare circumstances.

Instead, they're urging drivers and good Samaritans to be more aware of their surroundings.

Officials say the new fencing on the Outer Beltline at Glenwood will cost about $30,000.

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