The first time Samantha Denti's Chevrolet Cobalt stalled, other cars swerved and avoided her on a busy New Jersey highway. She was shaken by the incident, but okay. Months later, the car stalled again, this time on the off-ramp of a highway in Tennessee. Again shaken by the incident, she reached for her keys with trembling hands, and to her surprise, the car re-started immediately.

Mechanics at her local dealership found the problem. They told Denti to remove the keys from her keychain, and the problem would be solved. Driving with only the ignition key and a house key on her keychain weeks later, she escaped a third pileup when the car turned off again. "This car was surely a death trap," she said.

She was lucky.

At least 13 others died in car accidents caused by the same faulty ignition switch that affected her Cobalt. The defect has been linked to at least 31 car accidents. General Motors, maker of the Denti's Chevrolet, knew about the defect in 2001 – four years before the car event went into production – but didn't do anything to fix the cars. The company's decade-long delay in recalling the cars has been the subject of several investigations.

On Monday, Denti stood with the family members of other victims and congressmen organized by safety advocates in the shadow of the Capitol Building in Washington DC and pressed General Motors for answers. Their pleas came hours before GM CEO Mary Barra was scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, which is investigating the inaction of the automaker as well as the response of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The gathering was livestreamed online by SafeRoads.org.
Families of GM ignition victims gather at Capital Hill

"Driving this car was playing a game of Russian roulette," Denti said on the livestream. "I cannot comprehend the losses these families are going through."

Parents and caregivers of those who died held pictures of their loved ones and put their despair into words, recounting the prom dresses that went unworn, the wedding-day jitters they would never share, the grandchildren they would never see.

"Our husbands, wives and children, our love ones were the cost of doing business, GM style," said Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, who was killed when her car struck multiple trees on July 29, 2005. Emergency medical personal said she would be alive if her airbags had deployed.

They did not. Investigators found her ignition switch in the "accessory" position, where it had inadvertently slipped, thus turning off both the engine and crucial safety functions including the airbags. For years, GM has been "fighting the problem, and not fixing the problem," Christian said.

Standing alongside the victims' families, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) held an ignition switch in his hands. He said the cost difference between the faulty one that killed people and one that properly worked was $2. Yet documents show that GM said it was not cost effective to switch the parts.

Even after GM found evidence of nine Cobalt crashes involving non-deployed airbags by 2007, the company did not act until February of this year to recall more than 2.5 million affected vehicles that include the Cobalt, Chevy HHR, Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice and two other models.

"This recall is a decade late and dozens of lives and injuries short," Markey said. "What's almost as enraging is the Transportation Department's failures let a car company hide fatal defects."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Markey have introduced legislation that would require automakers to submit documents that alert them to fatal accidents, require the Department of Transportation to publish information it currently keeps secret and require the DOT to upgrade databases that could be used by consumers.

The congressmen also said GM's current advice to customers is fraught with danger: The company has said affected vehicles are safe to drive, so long as motorists remove all keys from their keychains. Several of the congressmen and family members who spoke Tuesday said that's ludicrous.

"These particular models are unsafe at any speed behind that wheel," Blumenthal said. "Until they are repaired, they should not be driven."


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  • 41 Comments
      WINNER
      • 9 Months Ago
      OKAY ENOUGH.. I am tired of heading all of the hate. Yes it is HORRIFIC that GM didn't issue a recall sooner and that anyone had to endure any injuries or loss of a loved one but people are treating GM like they intentionally did this to their consumers. GM was told by DELPHI YEARS ago that they had fixed the problem with their ignitions (they even changed the part number) so GM had the impression that it was fixed and that the problem was an isolated issue so they ignored it thinking that the new parts were fixed. I never heard anyone being this critical towards FORD when they had trucks that were rolling over and kept blaming deaths on tire manufacturers when they knew all along that it was THEIR fault. Same goes for TOYOTA.. They had the BIGGEST recall in automotive history and far more deaths yet they seemed to sail right through with no backlash. and ANOTHER issue that I have is that in 2009 GM filed for bankruptcy protection to SAVE AMERICAN JOBS.. Which they DID plus they have repaid their loans OVER 7 years ahead of time and people call them Government Motors.. Yet when FORD mortgaged itself up to its EYEBALLS that same year in FOREIGN loans nobody said a thing. I would much rather borrow money from America than a foreign country. So if you don't like GM don't buy their vehicles. I have had three Tahoes in my lifetime and this fall when I purchase a new vehicle I am 100% sure that it will be a Tahoe as well.
        Finklestein
        • 9 Months Ago
        @WINNER
        You sound like you WORK for GOVERNMENT MOTORS. Have fun with all your GM vehicles and future ones. Must be nice giving even MORE taxpayer money to a car company that took over 10 YEARS to make fatal manufacturing defects known to the very people who ended up saving them from going BANKRUPT.
      CaptaInKronos
      • 9 Months Ago
      Let's not forget that several of the reported deaths were due to DWI, excessive speed, and/or not wearing seat belts. So even though the airbags may not have deployed, those particular deaths are primarily the driver's fault, not the car's. Unfortunate that they died, but let's place the blame where it's due.
      BryanB
      • 9 Months Ago
      Has anyone _else_ read DeLorean's book? This isn't unexpected. http://www.amazon.com/Clear-Day-You-General-Motors/dp/0960356207
      jasonbooboo
      • 10 Months Ago
      Also we need some SERIOUS driver's education if something as minor as an engine turning off causes a loss of vehicle control. *facepalm* And hands trembling from such a minor event? They act like its the same as a wheel falling off, you are simply decelerating, big whoop. Looks like a money grab, and family that doesn't want to admit that their kid died because they were retarded, and prefers to lay the blame 100% with a faceless corporation.
        Famsert
        • 10 Months Ago
        @jasonbooboo
        What a disgusting comment. An engine turning off is in no way minor.
        m_2012
        • 10 Months Ago
        @jasonbooboo
        Ignition shutting off shouldnt shut off the ignition systems, at least not instantly. No reason the airbags couldnt stay on for seconds, even minutes after the car shuts off. This is just a bad design that costs lives.
      mapoftazifosho
      • 10 Months Ago
      I understand that there is an issue with the ignition switches, but the story of the drunk girl going twice over the speed limit...yeah...that family needs to STFU and GTFO.
        Justin
        • 10 Months Ago
        @mapoftazifosho
        THE AIRBAG DID NOT GO OFF. She might have survived the wreck had GM done the right thing.
          Snowbird
          • 9 Months Ago
          @Justin
          She hit a tree at 70 mph and wasn't wearing her seat belt I think air bags going off was the least of the worries at that point.
        mapoftazifosho
        • 10 Months Ago
        @mapoftazifosho
        Maybe if she hadn't been a stupid drink bimbo she wouldn't have had the wreck... Your right to sue an automaker should disappear if you're super drunk behind the wheel. Had she hit and killed someone else...should GM also be responsible for their injury/death?
        Justin
        • 10 Months Ago
        @mapoftazifosho
        THE AIRBAG DID NOT GO OFF. She may have survived the wreck had GM done the right thing.
      jasonbooboo
      • 10 Months Ago
      Uhhhhhh, how is hanging a heavy weight from your key GM's fault? Every owners manual I have ever read says not to do that, and of course driving down the road with bumps and what not and a weight constantly tugging over and over on the mechanism is going to break it. User error. Take responsibility for your own actions.
        Tariff The Imports
        • 10 Months Ago
        @jasonbooboo
        It's a poorly designed ignition, fully GM's faulty. It's an absolute disgrace so stop trying to minimize this issue. Gotta like these GM apologists though. Always playing the blame game even when it's proven their vehicles are defective.
        Tariff The Imports
        • 10 Months Ago
        @jasonbooboo
        Ya GM. Take responsibility for you actions of using poor quality parts.
      mbukukanyau
      • 10 Months Ago
      While loosing a life is a horrible thing, Americans are a strange people. They let their family members roam the street homeless because no relative will take care of them, shove their old parents into nursing homes to be cared for by foreigners, kill their babies because they are 'unwanted', supposedly, so when you see them like this, you have to wonder if its just for the big payday they anticipate. how much of the Toyota billions will the families see? How much of the tobacco and the asbestos billions have families seen? Let me guess? Not much, This is just another round of politicians milking money for their lawyer friends who in turn fund their political campaigns. I wonder if UAW will jump in for a piece of the action.
      ken
      • 10 Months Ago
      The victims maybe speeding, not paying enough attention, or failing to retain control in the incident, but, objectively, cars should never shut off when the vehicles are in motion. What's even more unacceptable is the fact that GM won't correct the problem for over 10 years. That'S simply playing with customers' lives.
      GM4LIFE
      • 10 Months Ago
      Wow, Ignition problems causing deaths, brand new 2015 Tahoes bursting into flames, recall after recall, significant price increases, less than favorable Chevy design changes........ This hasn't been a good year so far for the new General Motor's Chevy division.....
      Jmaister
      • 10 Months Ago
      whether Mary Bara is or isnt full of BS. starts here. no more crappy cars she says, i'd say no more crappy corporate culture. hella hurdle for her right now tho.
      Hazdaz
      • 9 Months Ago
      Oh boy.... here come the water-works. Lawyer: "Listen lady, cry a few crocodile tears in front of those cameras over there and soon all you'll be seeing is dollar signs."
        Bernard
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Hazdaz
        That photo does look a bit staged. Who walks around holding up a photo while pointing at it and crying?
      Drew Smith
      • 10 Months Ago
      Bad design, but the car suddenly shutting of wouldn't instantly kill people. More over, SOME blame is with the people who had 10lbs worth of keys hanging out of the ignition. It drives me crazy to see girls with so many freakin key chains and keys. There is a reason that so many of the victim's pictures above are young and female. They have a tendency to have WAY too much stuff hanging there.
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