SAN FRANCISCO -- A 24-year-old Bay Area football star was killed in a violent crash and experts say he could have survived if it hadn't been for the guardrail he struck.
Darryl Blackmon died after an accident Saturday morning in Marin County in the North San Francisco Bay Area. The type of guardrail he slammed into has been blamed for deaths and injuries across the country.
It is unclear if Blackmon fell asleep, was distracted or impaired when he hit the guardrail four days ago. The toxicology screen is expected to take another week or so to process. The California Highway Patrol is downloading data from the car's black box to see how fast he was going. However, a guardrail maker who has sued the other company that made the guardrail Blackmon hit says, he should have survived the crash.
Friends say Blackmon may have been coming home from work as a bouncer at a San Francisco bar, when his car crashed in Mill Valley 4:30 a.m Saturday.
Blackmon was 6 feet 7 inches tall. He excelled on the Berkeley High School football team, played at Kansas State and even tried out for the 49ers in April. After an injury, he hoped to try again next year.
Through it all, he volunteered, coaching Berkeley kids with Pop Warner football coach Todd Walker. Walker said, "Every time I see him, he's just nice, big baby to me. He's just a nice guy, well-raised by his mother."
After Blackmon died in the crash, Caltrans crews didn't clean up very well. Pieces of his Chrysler Sebring were found along Highway 101. Part of the bumper assembly, a headlight, even a bio-hazard bag full of bloody gloves used by emergency personnel was found.
But, crews did take special care of the guardrail end piece involved in the crash. It was not in the recycle pile at the Caltrans maintenance yard in Petaluma on Tuesday, but the main beam involved in the crash was there.
Josh Harman, a guardrail manufacturer who has sued Trinity Industries, which makes the guardrail in question, blamed Blackmon's death on the "head" of the company's product, ET-Plus.
"That head is responsible for the death of that boy, there's no question," Harmon said.
Here's how the ET-Plus is supposed to work: The force of the car pushes the end terminal down the guardrail and it flattens the "W" into a smooth ribbon of steel that comes out the side. That process slows the car.
In this case, the guardrail is seen bulging out of the ET-Plus channel and folded right at the end terminal.
"They lock up and then as you see with the gouge right there, it buckled over, knuckled up, and ripped off and allowed the vehicle through," Harman explained.
The guardrail flipped onto the highway, and the Sebring continued past, smacked into a sign pole and stopped upside down. After repeated incidents like this one and lawsuits filed against the company, 39 states have now banned the ET-Plus, but not California.
Caltrans spokesperson Bob Haus said they are waiting for solid data before making a decision on the product.
"Of course, our sympathies and our hearts are with the families right now," Haus said.
Stacks of new ET-Plus heads were found in the Caltrans yard. Caltrans also installed another ET-Plus at that same location, the day Blackmon died.
"It's unconscionable that these people are just ignoring these obvious facts and I will not stop. I will not silent. People are dying if something isn't done and they'll continue dying," Harman said.
A close friend of Blackmon's mother said she is too distraught to speak with media right now. She lost her only son.
Trinity Industries emailed a statement saying, "Our sympathies go out to the Blackmon family over their loss... At this time, it would be premature to speculate on the particular details involving this accident."
List of states that have banned the ET-Plus Guardrail End Terminal:
District of Columbia
Football star dies after crashing into controversial guardrail system