Families of GM crash victims take case to Capitol Hill – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Trenton Buzard wiggled in his shiny red wheelchair, twisting and turning to see the people around him.
Behind the 6-year-old at the U.S. Capitol were a dozen teary-eyed people, holding pictures of loved ones killed in car accidents linked to General Motors now-recalled faulty ignition switches tied to 13 deaths and 54 crashes. They came here for another round of Congressional testimony by GM CEO Mary Barra into the automaker’s handling of the faulty switches, which has led to multiple recalls this year covering millions of U.S. cars.
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Trenton was paralyzed on April 2, 2009, when the 2005 Chevy Cobalt driven by his great-grandmother lost power. Another vehicle hit them head-on.
“My son is left paralyzed from the belly button down,” Trenton’s father, Robert Buzard, said as he tousled his son’s hair. “He still has a feeding tube. His vision has been impaired because of a broken eye socket. He has to live the rest of his life this way and GM needs to accept responsibility for what they’ve done.”
Ken Rimer’s daughter, Natasha Weigel, was killed in October 2006, when a car’s airbags did not deploy after hitting a tree. “GM has labeled this problem ‘the ignition switch from hell’ but did nothing with it,” Rimer said.
“GM is failing on all fronts,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told the families. “The victims who settled should be given the opportunity to recontest their claims.”
As the senator spoke, family members comforted each other with hugs and tissues.
“My Amber is but one real and tragic result of GM’s defects,” said Laura Christian, whose daughter, Amber Rose, died in July 2005, when her car stuck multiple trees and the airbags did not deploy. “Enough is enough.”
Family members hope their stories will help other families who may be harmed while driving GM cars that have not been recalled. And they have pressed Congress to tighten rules to ensure that flawed vehicles are recalled quickly.
During the hearing, the families sat in the back three rows of the room, pictures of their loved ones displayed on the wall behind them.
“You have my word that we will make sure that this will never happen again,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
“The families of the victims of the defective vehicles deserve better. GM failed you,” said Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill. “We’re looking at the photos in the back of the room … They need more than an apology.”
Families could only see the back of Barra’s head as she testified. Their mood appeared to fluctuate between heartbreak and anger. Some cracked a smile or laughed quietly as DeGette cut off Barra.
“Can I…” Barra asked.
“No,” DeGette said, interrupting her.
If Barra was concerned that she could not be heard, family members of the crash victims know the feeling.
Sam Spencer’s son Leslie was killed at age 35 in a Chevy Cobalt accident in December of 2010.
“GM won’t return our calls,” Spencer said. “They don’t count him in the 13.”
Belinda Spencer, Leslie Spencer’s stepmother said the accident was caused by the faulty ignition switch.
“GM is unaware of how many families have been affected by this recall. The number 13 is wrong,” Belinda Spencer said.