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Mother Of Earliest Auto Defect Victim Calls On Congress To Act


The earliest of the 13 deaths attributed to the faulty ignition switch and acknowledged by GM was in 2005. Amber Marie Rose was 16 years old. One year earlier, she had been reunited with her birth mother, Laura Christian, who had given her up for adoption as an infant. Her adoptive parents sued GM and the automaker settled. Miss Christian, though, has been speaking for the family and joins us. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: Let's deal with one problem first. Amber died when her car struck a tree and her airbag did not deploy as it should have. But she'd been drinking, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt. Are you confident that she would have survived but for the ignition defect?

CHRISTIAN: Oh, I'm very confident. I spoke to the EMT shortly after and they told me that had the airbags deployed, that she would have been injured but she would have been alive today.

SIEGEL: You've created a Facebook page, GM Recall Survivors. First, have you heard from people who think that a relative of theirs might have died as a result of this ignition defect beyond the 13 acknowledged deaths?

CHRISTIAN: Oh, absolutely. I found 29 so far myself.

SIEGEL: Who suspect that the death might have been caused by a failed ignition?

CHRISTIAN: Or we have crash data, police reports or eyewitnesses that - in which the airbags did not deploy.

SIEGEL: What are you seeking? What should GM be called upon to do here?

CHRISTIAN: Well, it's not so much GM at this point. Certainly, all of us deserve to know exactly what happened and when. But I'm calling upon Congress to do several different things. First of all, to increase the penalty from 35 million. Where that may sound like a lot to us as individuals, to a corporation like GM, who made over three billion last year, that's nothing. It's hardly a deterrent.

Also, we're calling on Congress to pass Senator Markey and Senator Blumenthal's legislation, which will require car manufacturers such as GM to automatically report information to NHTSA rather than NHTSA having to go and do a special request.

SIEGEL: Information, meaning any vehicular fatality?

CHRISTIAN: Not just fatalities. It shouldn't come to a fatality, especially when it's regarding a car that has a defective part. GM knew about this defect. They knew about it in 2001. They OK'd it going forward. They should have been required to pass on that information to NHTSA from day one.

SIEGEL: What you're calling for in that case would be the reporting not just of fatal crashes, but all kinds of accidents, presumably tens of thousands of them that would be reported to NHTSA routinely, requiring a much, much more vigilant role for the government over auto accidents.

CHRISTIAN: Well, to some degree. We're talking about safety issues. We're not talking about every single accident that happens. I mean, human error is certainly a factor in a lot of accidents. When it comes to defects or other safety issues, those things should be required to be reported.

SIEGEL: Miss Christian, were you at the meeting with the GM boss, Mary Barra, the other night?

CHRISTIAN: I was. Yes.

SIEGEL: What did you think? Were you at all impressed with her presentation?

CHRISTIAN: No, I was not. All of these families told heartbreaking stories, you know, describing their loved ones and the loss that they feel today and will probably always feel. And between each one, she certainly expressed her sympathy and the rote I'm so sorry for your loss. And when it came to my turn, I started asking questions. I wanted to know what her thoughts were about parking these cars until they were all fixed. And she told me that the - as long as - there was just that single key in the ignition that this car was perfectly safe to drive.

I asked her about the differences in the torque or the amount of pressure it takes to turn the key from run to accessory position, and she told me that because the investigation was ongoing, she was not going to comment on that. I think that the families deserve to know. I think GM needs to take another look certainly at whether these cars are truly safe rather than, you know, this resulting in someone else losing their life or becoming injured in the coming weeks.

SIEGEL: Well, Laura Christian, thank you very much for talking with us about this.

CHRISTIAN: Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: Laura Christian spoke to us from Capitol Hill. She was the birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, who died in a car crash in 2005 when the airbags on her GM vehicle failed to deploy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.