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Dozens of improperly installed guardrails found on Florida roads

The state is undergoing a full review of every inch of its roadways after 10 Investigates showed the Florida Department of Transportation a database we compiled.

Jennifer Titus, Libby Hendren, Carter Schumacher

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Published: 2:20 PM EST February 21, 2023
Updated: 9:41 PM EST February 22, 2023

Charles "Charley" Pike, who now lives in Belvedere, Illinois, has never spoken to any journalist before but told 10 Investigates, “It was time for my story to be told.”

Pike lost his leg after crashing into a guardrail.

His story begins along State Road 33 in Groveland, Florida, on Oct. 29, 2010. He was a passenger in a pickup truck.

"I remember we were driving...We swerved to miss a Labrador or some big dog. We swerve like this — we touch the dirt and the back left of the tire — the truck slides a little bit," Pike described.

The truck then hit a guardrail that sits at the intersection of State Road 33 and Airport Road.

"To my understanding, guardrails are supposed to crumble like an accordion, kind of give cushion...This thing impaled the truck like a harpoon, Pike said.

The guardrail went through the truck and into the passenger side where Pike was sitting. He said he didn’t think the impact was that bad until he went to move his leg which had been impaled by the guardrail. 

Emergency crews had to use the jaws of life to try and remove Pike from the truck. They airlifted him to Orlando Regional Medical Center.

"I woke up and was without my left foot," Pike said. "I was like, ‘Mom, did I lose my leg?’ And she was like, ‘Yes.’ ...I just — water works on me. I started crying. I didn’t think I was that hurt."

Credit: Charlie Pike
Charlie Pike receives a prosthetic leg and undergoes therapy after a guardrail severed his leg in an October 2010 crash.

Pike says he was in the hospital for about a week until he was released. He underwent intense therapy to learn how to walk again. He was given a prosthetic from the knee down.

"Nowadays, I would say — good about four," said Pike, referring to his pain on a scale through 10. "On a bad day, when it’s cold...27."

It’s a pain Pike says he shouldn’t have because the accident should have never happened.

“I was mad because if that guardrail wasn’t there, we would’ve been fine,” Pike said. “I felt cheated, kind of, and anger very — because of the whole situation.”

Pike filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation after the accident. The lawsuit claims the truck crashed into a guardrail that Florida inmates improperly installed and says the state was negligent “in failing to keep, operate, repair and maintain” safe conditions on State Road 33.

"If you're going to put something to help people, you gotta make dang sure it's built properly so it helps people," Pike said.

The lawsuit ended up going nowhere.

But 10 Investigates, along with safety advocates, located dozens of improperly installed guardrails across the state 10 years after Pike’s crash.

"It makes me upset that I got hurt for nothing and nothing changed. Um, nothing," he said.

INVESTIGATIVE SUMMARY: For the past four months, 10 Tampa Bay reporter Jennifer Titus, producer Libby Hendren and photographer Carter Schumacher traveled across Florida — and even made a visit to Illinois — as they uncovered improperly installed guardrails on the state's roads. If a guardrail isn’t installed properly, it won’t work like it's tested, turning some guardrails into "monsters." Our team found these from Key West to Orlando and from Sarasota to Tallahassee. Now, the Florida Department of Transportation is doing a full review of every inch of guardrails on their roads. 

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