General Motors should take responsibility for the deaths that resulted from its vehicle malfunctions over the past decade, one victim’s father said Wednesday.
“You can only hear you’re sorry so many times … It doesn’t mean anything. There needs to be action,” Doug Weigel, whose 18-year-old daughter Natasha died in November 2006 as a result of a malfunction in a GM vehicle, said on The Daily Rundown.
Weigel’s daughter, whom he described as energetic and a “free spirit,” was riding in a car that slammed into a telephone box and two trees after it experienced an ignition switch failure. The family has sued GM in a Minnesota court.
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday asked Mary Barra, the newly appointed CEO of GM, for justification as to why the auto company hesitated for a decade to recall millions of cars that resulted in at least 13 deaths, many of them young people like Natasha Weigel.
On the first day of the two-day testimony, Barra told lawmakers she was “deeply sorry” and noted her unhappiness over a previous statement from the company that said the cost of replacing defective switches was too high.
Additionally, the auto company recalled 1.5 million cars last month because of a separate issue – this time related to air bag and fire risks.
“Sure there is a cover up…it’s time to stop covering up,” Renee Trautwein, whose 19-year-old daughter Sarah died while driving a GM vehicle, said Wednesday on Jansing & Co. Her family originally believed she fell asleep at the wheel before she died in June 2009. But they later learned the crash was tied to the faulty ignition switch that caused small GM cars to turn off, stiffen the brakes and steering, and disable the air bags.“It’s just hard to really fathom. Was she struggling? Was she trying to get out of the car, the car she loved, her first-ever car?” Sarah’s brother, Phil Trautwein, said on Jansing & Co.
Barra, a veteran GM employee, insisted she wasn’t aware of the problem until the end of January when she became chief executive of the company. Previously an engineer, Barra said she had not yet met with the team responsible for the defective ignition switches.
Barra returned to Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to testify in front of a Senate committee. Earlier in the week she met one-on-one with family members who lost relatives.
“I felt it was very cold, very scripted. There was not a dry eye in the room except Mary Barra and her attorneys,” said Renee Trautwein, adding that she regretted attending the emotional meeting.
Weigel agreed Barra’s comments felt rehearsed.
“It was very scripted. I don’t think she answered any of the questions,” Weigel said about Barra’s first testimony.
GM has hired Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw victims’ compensation funds after the Sept. 11 attacks, BP oil spill, and Boston Marathon bombing, to help the company respond to the crisis.
The company said officials are conducting an internal investigation and will eventually inform the public with new findings.
“The right thing to do right now is get the 2.5 million cars off the road, immediately,” Renee Trautwein said. “We’re going to lose more lives, and that is what I want to stop right now.”
David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on Tuesday responded to criticism directed at the NHTSA for documents that revealed regulators repeatedly declined to order recalls on vehicles years ago, despite mounting evidence that crashes continued to occur.
Some legislators are working on bills that would require lawmakers to submit accident reports when they learn of a fatality and force the agency to make the information available to the public.Barra’s remarks on Tuesday conveyed a notion of an “old” and a “new” GM. A lead engineer – who is still employed by the company – lied under oath last April after being confronted with clear evidence there was a cover-up, which is part of the “old” GM, said Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chairs the Senate committee that was questioning Barra Wednesday. The company’s recent issuing of recalls is a fresh approach, she added.
“You need no other proof that there was a cover-up other than the fact that they wouldn’t even let the parts-suppliers know, wouldn’t even let the dealerships know, that they were dealing with a different ignition switch,” she said Wednesday on The Daily Rundown.
Watch here for live coverage of Wednesday’s hearing.