The head of General Motors was grilled by lawmakers in Washington Tuesday, who asked why it took the company 13 years to recall a faulty ignition switch on several of its models. The malfunctioning part has been blamed for 13 deaths in crashes involving GM cars.
Two teenage girls from western Wisconsin are among those fatalities. Amy Rademaker, 15, and Natasha Weigel, 19, were killed in a car accident in St. Croix County, Wis., in 2006, and their families say it was because the ignition switch on the Chevy Cobalt they were riding in malfunctioned.
They claim the ignition switch suddenly turned from the “run” to “accessory” position, causing the steering, braking and airbag systems to lose power. The driver lost control of the car, which left the road and struck a telephone junction box and two trees. The girls who died were passengers in the car. The driver suffered a brain injury.
Family members recently filed suit against GM, and some of them were at the Capitol Tuesday for the House committee hearing.
“I just don’t understand how they can knowingly put those cars out and still let people drive them,” said Margie Beskau, Rademaker’s mother, according to WCCO.
In the past few weeks, GM has announced a recall of 2.6 million vehicles worldwide that were built with, or repaired with, the faulty ignition switch, CNN reports.
General Motor’s CEO Mary Barra didn't have many answers as to why the recall didn't occur earlier, and why the problem wasn't fixed earlier, WCCO reports.
Barra became GM’s CEO less than three months ago.
“Sitting here today, I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out,” she said.
Jayne Rimer, Weigel’s mother, attended the hearing, according to WCCO.
“I’m here to speak for Natasha, who can’t speak for herself,” she said.
Rimer’s husband Ken laid the blame directly on the car company.
“GM knew it was wrong,” he added. “GM hid it during the bankruptcy proceedings, GM is liable for these young deaths.”
Barra announced at the hearing that GM has hired compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg, who has worked on large-scale events from 9/11 to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil and Boston Marathon, to look at how the company can respond to families who lost loved ones in accidents, NPR reports.
Barra will testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday.