Crash victim’s father wants answers from Congress

Published 9:54 am Thursday, April 3, 2014

An Albert Lea father whose daughter died in 2006 after an automobile crash in Wisconsin said he is frustrated he and others have not received answers about the faulty ignition switch that led to his daughter’s death.

Doug Weigel, father of 2006 Albert Lea High school graduate Natasha Weigel, attended a hearing Tuesday in front of Congress with other families who have lost loved ones because of defective switches in recalled General Motors vehicles.

Natasha, 18, and two of her friends were riding in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt on Oct. 24, 2006, in Wisconsin, when the vehicle’s ignition switch turned from the “run” position to the “accessory” position.

The Cobalt, unable to be controlled, veered off the road into the south ditch and into a small grove of trees in St. Croix County, Wis. The car ultimately struck a telephone junction box and two trees. The airbags did not deploy.

The driver, Megan Phillips, suffered serious injuries but survived. Front passenger Amy Rademaker died the night of the crash, and Natasha, who was in the back seat on the driver’s side, died 11 days later.

“I just hope it gets resolved and that Congress doesn’t let this drop out of the limelight because it needs to be resolved,” Doug said.

He said he is frustrated he and other families have not received answers from GM’s CEO Mary Barra.

“There’s no admission of responsibility to my knowledge,” Doug said. “It’s a standard answer of, ‘They’re doing an investigation.’”

He said Barra met with the families of victims, and she apologized to each family individually, but “after hearing what happened yesterday at the hearings, it didn’t carry much weight.”

Weigel and Natasha’s mother and stepfather, Ken and Jayne Rimer of Wisconsin, have appeared on multiple national media outlets after they filed a wrongful death lawsuit against General Motors last month in Hennepin County District Court.

The lawsuit alleges GM knew about the defect but did nothing to prevent future deaths.

“GM and its dealers with actual knowledge had duties to all owners of these defective vehicles … all of which were knowingly, intentionally and fraudulently ignored and intentionally kept secret from the public, which resulted in the above injuries and deaths,” the lawsuit states.

It states rather than issue a recall, GM sent private notices to dealers in 2005 and 2006, telling them that certain models’ ignition switches could unexpectedly shut off.

“According to those nonpublic bulletins, dealers were to tell drivers who ‘were short’ to remove unessential items from their key chains, but not to tell the owners of the danger and immediate need for a replacement,” it continues.

The lawsuit alleges the company knew about the defects since 2004 before the launch of the 2005 Cobalt and that the defective switch has been linked to 33 crashes and 13 fatalities in the United States.

It did not issue a recall until February of this year.

“As a direct and proximate result of GM’s conduct, and the defective nature of the subject vehicle, decedents Natasha Weigel and Amy Rademaker died prematurely and unnecessarily,” the lawsuit states.

It further argues negligence, fraud, liability and misrepresentation.