9 Investigates big rig safety measures after crash severely injures teen

By: Allison Latos

Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A young North Carolina man narrowly survived a brutal crash with a tractor-trailer.

His injuries were so severe, he had to learn how to walk again.

Rodney Whitson couldn't hold back tears while telling Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos about the crash that critically injured his 19-year-old son Tim.

“I lost so much blood. I don't remember much, just bits and pieces," Tim Whitson said.

In October 2015, a tractor-trailer collided with Tim Whitson’s truck in Spruce Pine.

“That trailer went across my boy's hood on the driver's side," Rodney Whitson said.

Tim suffered brain injuries, cuts and two broken legs. He has metal rods from his hips to his knees and spent weeks learning how to walk again, one painful step at a time.

"A good daddy would never want to see what I've seen," Rodney said. "I've seen my boy scream in pain."

The family is now suing the trucking company.

Their attorney, Dre Fleury, believes Tim's injuries would not have been so severe if the tractor-trailer had had side underride guards, metal bars intended to stop vehicles from going underneath the trailer in a crash.

"This is made to withstand the force of a vehicle," Fleury said. "This prevents thousands of deaths in the countries and cities where they're mandated."

For decades, other countries have mandated side guards, but they are not required in the United States.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety started crash test studies this year on side underride guards.

The guard stops the car, and the airbags deploy, but if a truck has no guard or only a side skirt like for aerodynamics, the crash rips off the vehicle's roof.

In 2015, IIHS said 301 people in the United States died in side crashes with tractor trailers.

Fleury said there's danger on city streets as well, not just on highways.

"It comes sweeping over on whatever is in its path. That could be a bicycle or a little old lady crossing a street," Fleury said.

Several U.S. cities passed ordinances requiring side guards on city vehicles. Some also require them for vehicles of companies that receive city contracts.

Fleury plans to take his push to Charlotte council.

Tim Whitson now lives with limitations, but his father is by his side, every step, hoping their situation leads to change.

"I wouldn't want my worst enemy to go through what me and my family went through," Rodney said.

Fleury told Channel 9 his law firm plans to call on major cities across both North Carolina and South Carolina to enact local safety measures.

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