EXCLUSIVE: I-Team investigates why CalTrans didn't fix safety barrier before Tesla driver died there

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- New information obtained by the ABC7 I-Team presents serious questions for CalTrans, about the death of the Tesla driver along 101 in Mountain View Friday.

Dan Noyes contacted the driver who hit that same safety barrier eleven days before the Tesla crash, and it's clear CalTrans did not fix it before the Tesla driver, an Apple engineer, crashed at that spot.

Apple engineer Walter Huang, 38, died Friday when his Tesla slammed into the safety barrier where the 85 carpool lane veers off from 101 south in Mountain View.

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A 38-year-old man was killed when his Tesla crashed and caught on fire in Mountain View.

Tesla released an image from the day before the crash, showing the safety barrier collapsed -- it provided no cushion to Huang.

On Thursday, the CHP released information about what happened. Eleven days before the Tesla crash, 10:30 at night:

  • 31-year-old James Barboza of Hayward slammed his 2010 Prius into the safety barrier at 70 miles per hour.

  • He survived with just lacerations to his face, and complaints of pain to his head, face, back, arms, and legs.

  • He was allegedly arrested for driving under the influence.

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I reached Barboza by text. He expressed his "deepest condolences to the family," and said, "Unfortunately Dan, I am going to have to decline (an interview) at the moment." He added, "Very unfortunate about the Tesla driver, really sorry to hear. Yes I dodged a bullet here."

"It's like hitting a reinforced brick wall," Attorney Steven Lawrence tells the I-Team. He specializes in highway safety; he has sued CalTrans over guardrail issues in the past. He compares Walter Huang hitting that collapsed safety barrier to this accident at the Daytona 500 in 2001.

"If people are familiar with it, the accident that killed Dale Earnhardt, it's that sudden stop that will kill you," says Lawrence.

He says the safety barrier in question is this -- a reusable, hydraulic crash cushion that has to be pulled back into place. Lawrence says CalTrans should have repaired it long before Walter Huang crashed in his Tesla this past Friday.

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"Some states have as short as a 3 day repair time for high traffic locations," Lawrence tells Dan Noyes. "And if you look at the material in California, this thing should have been repaired within a week. Again, there are a lot of questions about what happened and what went wrong, but it should have been repaired in under 11 days."

CalTrans finally sent ABC7 News a statement later Thursday"confirming" it's their policy to fix broken safety barriers within seven days, or five business days ... but storms delayed the work. As Dan Noyes reported Wednesday, the family told me they believe Walter Huang would have survived, if CalTrans fixed that safety barrier in a timely fashion. Another issue is whether the auto-pilot was engaged on the Tesla and if it played a role in the crash. I'll be investigating more in the coming days.

Here is the full statement from CalTrans:

"Once our Maintenance team has been notified, the Department's goal is to repair or replace damaged guardrail or crash attenuators within seven days or five business days, depending on weather. These are guidelines that our Maintenance staff follow. However, as in this case, storms can delay the fix.

In this incident, as soon as maintenance was aware of the damaged attenuator, efforts were made to place cones or safety barricades at the site and the replacement work was scheduled.

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The NTSB is conducting an investigation into the incident.

The crash attenuator is a SCI SMART Cushion Test Level 3 Attenuator."

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