GM crash victims to attend recall hearing

Victims of car crashes that were related to a recalled part on several late model General Motors’ vehicles will attend a hearing about the defective autos Tuesday, a spokeswoman representing the families during their trip to Washington said.

GM CEO Mary Barra is expected to testify Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about a recall on ignition switches on several mid-2000 automobiles that officials say has affected 1.6 million vehicles and resulted in 13 deaths.

The hearing is expected to be contentious because lawmakers on the Republican-led committee have been criticizing GM and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for waiting more than a decade in some case to issue the recall.

The families of victims of car crashes linked to the GM recall said a survivor, New Jersey resident Samantha Denti and the parents of a pair of crash victims who died in 2005 and 2006 would attend the congressional hearing on Tuesday.

Denti was driving “a new 2005 [Chevrolet] Cobalt which shut down a number of times while she was driving,” according to the group for the GM crash families.  

“Luckily, she survived the incidents and she will talk about them,” the group said.

Maryland resident Amber Marie Rose and Natasha Weigel were not so lucky.

Rose was “killed on July 29, 2005, when the car she was driving struck multiple trees,” the group said.

“Her airbags did not deploy,” the statement from the crash victims said. “Emergency medical personnel have indicated that she would still be alive if her air bags had worked. The car was in the accessory position."

Weigel similarly “died on November 4, 2006, as the result of injuries sustained in a crash on October 24, 2006,” according to the group.

“Natasha was riding with two of her friends when the driver lost control of the car and hit a tree,” the group said. “The airbags did not deploy. The other passenger died the night of the crash at the hospital. The driver suffered multiple head and internal injuries and survived.”

GM CEO Barra, who is in her first year at the helm of the largest U.S. automaker, is expected to defend her handling of the recall since assuming control of the company in January in her remarks to lawmakers on Tuesday.

“As soon as l learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed,” Barra said in written testimony that was submitted to the House panel.

“We did so because whatever mistakes were made in the past, we will not shirk from our responsibilities now and in the future,” Barra said. “Today’s GM will do the right thing.”

Lawmakers are accusing the company of waiting years to notify drivers of potential problems with their automobiles.

“Did the company or regulators miss something that could have flagged these problems sooner?” House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) asked in a statement announcing the Tuesday hearing.

“If the answer is yes, we must learn how and why this happened, and then determine whether this system of reporting and analyzing complaints that Congress created to save lives is being implemented and working as the law intended,” Upton continued. “Americans deserve to have the peace of mind that they are safe behind the wheel. We plan to seek detailed information from both NHTSA and GM.”

The recall involved several GM models from the mid-2000s. The highway safety agency has recommended that drivers "use only the ignition key with nothing else on the key ring" to avoid problems like their cars shutting off or their airbags being disabled.

The agency, which is also coming under fire for its involvement in the delayed recall, has also recommended that drivers of the GM models that have been identified take their automobiles in for repairs as soon as possible.

On the eve of the House hearing, GM recalled another 1.3 million mid-to-late 2000's models that have faulty power steering mechanisms.