Families Protest General Motors’ Failed Ignition Switch: ‘GM Criminally Liable, Morally Bankrupt’

The families of two girls who were killed in accidents involving GM’s failed ignition switches protested in front of General Motor’s Detroit headquarters Monday. Tuesday, GM’s shareholders gathered for their annual meeting. The families of the girls who were killed hope to send a message to GM’s shareholders. “I think GM needs to be held criminally liable,” Laura Christian told the Detroit Free Press. “No money in the world can make up for what they’ve done.” Christian’s 16-year-old daughter Amber Rose died in a now-recalled Chevrolet Cobalt in 2005.

GM has recalled 2.59 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions, and other cars due to the ignition problems that were in involved in Amber Rose’s death. The failed ignition switch has been linked to 54 crashes and 13 deaths, and according to the Detroit News, GM admits it knew of the faulty ignition switches over ten years before they issued the recall. The switches were able to move to the “accessory” or “off” position while the car was moving. The power would then be cut to the engine, power steering and airbags while the car was moving leaving the driver powerless and less protected.

Natasha Weigel, 18, also died in an accident related to GM’s failed ignition switches. Natasha’s step-father, Ken Rimer, joined Christian in the protest in front of General Motors. Along with Natasha, 15-year old Amy Rademaker was also killed in that accident. Rimer said that the accident report of the crash blamed the faulty ignition switch long before GM recalled the vehicles. The protest was small and involved mostly family members. Families held signs saying GM was in “moral bankruptcy.”

General Motors agreed to pay a 35-million dollar fine when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator found GM withheld reporting the defect in the ignition switches in a timely manner. The fine is not enough for protesters. Protesters say that GM engineers called the faulty switches a “customer convenience issue” rather than a safety problem. A GM engineer redesigned the switch, but did not change the part number, which has led to significant confusion for vehicle owners and mechanics. Rimer said, “That inconvenience killed these two girls.”

GM announced last week that families will be offered compensation, but Laura Christian told the Detroit News, she wasn’t sure that she would accept it. She was waiting to make her decision to see what GM’s terms would be. Christian’s daughter was drinking, was speeding through a cul-de-sac, and was not wearing a seat belt when her vehicle went off the road. While the airbags did deploy, the ignition switch was found in the “accessory” position.

At the scene of the crash that killed Rimer’s step-daughter, air bags did not inflate and the ignition switch was also found in the “accessory” position. No one in that car had been wearing seat belts either.

“As our CEO Mary Barra said, we are taking responsibility for what has happened by taking steps to treat these victims and their families with compassion, decency and fairness,” General Motors spokesman Greg Martin said in a statement. “We made serious mistakes in the past, and as a result we’re making significant changes in our company to ensure they never happen again.”

Officials and GM’s chief said the death toll and crash numbers could increase following a more complete investigation. Protesters speculate that the fatalities connected to the failed ignition switches will be found higher than GM has previously admitted, because GM only counted front-impact crashes in earlier figures.

[Featured photo via the Free Press video interview]