General Motors CEO Mary Barra gave a tearful apology Monday, when she met with the families of car accident victims who were driving GM vehicles included in a growing recall list.
"We went around the table, family by family, and told stories about our loved ones who can't speak for themselves," Ken Rimer, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed in a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, told Detroit Free Press.
The recalled vehicles, which include Cobalts, Saturn Ions, and others, have ignition switches that can inadvertently shut off, stalling the car and disabling the airbags.
So far, 31 crashes have been linked to the recall, resulting in 13 deaths. Barra met with a total of 15 families in advance of a Congressional hearing investigating the recall. Daily Mail reported that during the meeting she was shown new photos of crash victims, many of them teenagers.
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"It was helpful for us to put Natasha and Amy's face on it and talk to Mary about them," said Rimer. "They are not just 13 victims. We are real people."
Laura Gipe Christian, who lost her 16-year-old daughter in a 2005 accident involving a Cobalt, said that Barra apologized during the meeting. "She may have been very sincere, but all of this is coming after we lost someone that nothing can replace," she told Detroit Free Press. She also said that Barra insisted that the cars are still drivable.
"I asked her about getting the cars off the road, and she told me the cars are safe," said Christian.
The low price of the recalled vehicles, often purchased by parents as a first car, has been connected to the disproportionate number of under-18 deaths, along with the fact that inexperienced drivers are more likely to panic in the event of a stalled vehicle.
"With an entry-level car where you have a newly licensed driver, the freak-out will win the day," Robert Hilliard, a personal injury lawyer who is suing GM, told Daily Mail. "All that those young drivers are going to do is respond to the panic."
GM has admitted that they knew about the faulty switches for at least a decade, but didn't start the recall of 2.6 million Cobalts and other cars until February. Relatives of car crash victims appeared at Tuesday's congressional hearing, where Barra again offered a public apology.
"Today's GM will do the right thing," she said. "That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall--especially the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."
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