Public Corruption Probe Targets Trinity Guardrails, Federal Highway Agency: Sources

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The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the use of a highway guardrail system linked to at least eight deaths, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling a new wave of potential woes for manufacturer Trinity Industries Inc.

Word of the inquiry comes weeks after Trinity appeared poised to move on from more than a year of scrutiny in courts and from states over the performance of its embattled ET-Plus, a product meant to blunt the impact of cars that crash headlong into guardrails. In March, Trinity’s system passed a closely watched series of crash tests ordered by the Federal Highway Administration, the government agency that certifies the safety of roadside hardware.

Now, federal investigators are interviewing potential witnesses about issues including Trinity’s relationship with the FHWA, according to these people. Investigators from a public corruption and special prosecutions unit of the Justice Department have subpoenaed documents from court battles involving Trinity’s ET-Plus on behalf of a grand jury, according to one of these people.

“Trinity has not been contacted by the Department of Justice,” Jeff Eller, a spokesman for Dallas-based Trinity, said in an e-mail about the U.S. probe. “Should they do so, we will respond openly to all requests for information.”

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