Area family heads to Washington for GM recall hearings

Published 10:12am Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ALBERT LEA — The family of an Albert Lea High School graduate who died in November 2006 after an automobile crash in Wisconsin will attend a congressional hearing today with other families who have been impacted by a General Motors recall.

Douglas Weigel of Albert Lea and Ken and Jayne Rimer of Wisconsin are the parents of Natasha Weigel, who died after a crash in a now-recalled 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.

Natasha Weigel was riding with two of her friends on Oct. 24, 2006, when the vehicle lost power, went off the side of the road, into the south ditch and into a small grove of trees in St. Croix County, Wis. The car bounced off a couple of trees before hitting another tree head on.

Natasha died 11 days later on Nov. 4, 2006; the driver suffered multiple head and internal injuries and survived, and the other passenger died the night of the crash at the hospital.

There was initially no indication of what caused the car wreck, but the car has since been recalled, along with 2.6 million other cars for an ignition switch defect.

Natasha, 18, had just graduated from Albert Lea High School. She was goalie of the girls’ varsity hockey team.

Families of four others killed while driving similar vehicles will also be in attendance at the hearing, along with one survivor from a crash in New Jersey.

The hearing is titled “The GM Ignition Switch Recall: Why Did it Take So Long?” and will be before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

GM CEO Mary Barra and David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are slated to appear before the committee.

Barra may try to limit her answers to Congress, citing an ongoing internal review and government investigations. In written testimony released Monday, she apologized to the victims of the defect and is expected to apologize again today. Barry became CEO in mid-January.

For his part, Friedman may try to shift blame from his agency to GM, saying the company withheld information. Either approach could annoy committee members, who will want to know why the system failed and ensure consumers that they’re adequately protected no matter what car they drive.

Congress wants to know if it needs to strengthen a 2000 law intended to improve communication between automakers and the government.


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