WASHINGTON – Laura Christian’s daughter was 16 years old in 2005 when the Chevy Cobalt she was driving hit a tree. The air bag didn’t deploy, and Amber Marie Rose was killed.
In the past two months, General Motors has recalled more than 2.5 million vehicles worldwide after linking defective ignition switches in similar cars to air bag failures – and to 13 deaths and 31 crashes. And there are indications GM approved the switches in 2002 even though it knew they did not meet specifications.
Family members who lost loved ones in those crashes turned a spotlight Tuesday on the human side of GM’s deadly mistake. They held a press conference at the Capitol in advance of a House subcommittee hearing on what high-ranking GM officials knew and when they knew it.
The family members, many holding photos of their loved ones, said they were concerned about other families who may be harmed while driving GM cars that have not been recalled. And they pressed Congress to tighten rules to ensure that flawed vehicles are recalled quickly.
Christian used her time at the microphone to press Congress for legislation that would compel car companies to be more transparent about problems with their vehicles.
“Corporate executives made a decision that fighting the problem was cheaper and easier than fixing the problem,” said Christian, who is among those who say GM had plenty of warning over the years to recall the vehicles and fix the switches.
“Please help us pass legislation to make sure that this never happens again,” Christian said.
Kelly Erin Ruddy was 21 when she burned to death in a car crash in 2010. Her mother, Mary Ruddy, said Kelly knew something was wrong with her 2005 Chevy Cobalt. Three months after the crash, the car was recalled for a power steering problem. She said GM “dismissed us.”
“I kept thinking that my heart is so broken, but the one thing I will see to is that this will never happen to another family,” Ruddy said. “That’s why we are here. It’s the final thing we can do for Kelly.”
Ken Rimer, whose stepdaughter, 18-year-old Natasha Weigel, died in 2006 after her 2005 Chevy Cobalt crashed, said GM knew years ago that it had made a big mistake. “Rather than fixing the problem, they chose to keep producing the Cobalt, with the ill-fated ignition switch, and selling it to an unsuspecting public,” Rimer said.
Samantha Denti, of Toms River, N.J., survived the problems that plagued her 2005 Chevy Cobalt.
“I was your typical 20-year-old,” she said, talking about how much she loved her car and the freedom it signified. But she said that one day she was driving and “all of the sudden my car went from 45 miles per hour to zero.” Months later that same thing happened again.
With just a single ignition key and a house key on the key chain, it happened again.
“This car was surely a death trap,” Denti says. “Driving this car was like playing a game of Russian roulette.”
Some members of Congress also took part in the press conference.
“Two dollars. That’s how little this ignition switch could have cost to repair,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “Two dollars that could have saved priceless lives. That was apparently $2 too much for General Motors.
“This recall is a decade late and dozens of lives and injuries short,” he said. Markey joined Christian and others in urging Congress to pass a bill to require more transparency from car manufacturers and the traffic and safety departments.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra, in testimony filed in advance of Tuesday’s hearing, promised the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight that “when we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.”
On Tuesday, Consumers Union, the Center for Justice Democracy and other consumer groups sent a letter to GM urging the company to establish a fund for victims of GM product defects, whose legal rights could be hampered by GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.
On Monday night, Barra met with the families of several people who died in crashes involving the recalled vehicles. According to some who were there, she wept at one point as families showed her pictures of the victims and told their stories.
Christian said she wanted to meet with Barra “so she could not turn away from the human side of this.” She said Barra said she was sorry many times during the meeting at GM’s Washington offices.
Renee Trautwein was unimpressed. Trautwein’s daughter Sarah was killed in 2009 after losing control of her 2005 Chevy Cobalt.
“It was a waste of time,” Trautwein said of the meeting with Barra. “I think she was doing it for PR. Nothing came out of it.”
The family only learned of the recall a few weeks ago.
“People are not aware,” Trautwein said. “How many recalls do we hear of every day? No one takes it seriously.”
She said her daughter loved the University of South Carolina, her cats and her dogs. “She left me with a grandpup,” Trautwein said. “Sarah was the love of my life. She was bubbly and happy and beautiful.
“Since we found out about the recall, we are all in a whole new mourning process. “
Spangler writes for the Detroit Free Press. Contributing: James R. Healey
Copyright 2014USA TODAY
Read the original story: Mom of GM crash victim: ‘My heart is so broken’