WASHINGTON (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - On the eve of what could be a grueling hearing before Congress, General Motors CEO Mary Barra shed tears Monday night listening to stories of families who lost loved ones in crashes involving cars now under a widening recall.
"We went around the table, family by family, and told stories about our loved ones who can't speak for themselves," said Ken Rimer of Hammond, Wis., whose stepdaughter Natasha Weigel, 18, was killed in a 2005 Cobalt.
Fifteen families met with Barra for about 45 minutes at GM's Washington office and showed the new CEO photos of relatives who were killed in crashes involving Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other cars recalled because of defective ignition switches.
GM has linked 13 deaths and 31 crashes to the switches, which can inadvertently be moved out of position, potentially disabling the air bags. GM hasn't publicly named the 13 victims or whether they were among the 15 families represented at the meeting Monday night. But Barra agreed to the meeting at the invitation of a lawyer, Bob Hilliard, who represents the families of Weigel and Amy Rademaker, 15, of Wisconsin, who were killed in a crash in 2006.
"It was helpful for us to put Natasha and Amy's face on it and talk to Mary about them," Rimer said. "They are not just 13 victims. We are real people."
Barra "said, 'I'm sorry,' an awful lot," said Laura Gipe Christian of Dentsville, Md., whose 16-year-old daughter Amber Marie Rose was killed in a crash of a Cobalt in 2005. "She may have been very sincere, but all of this is coming after we lost someone that nothing can replace."
Christian said Barra teared up at the beginning of the meeting but did not agree with Christian when she said the cars are dangerous and should be taken off the road.
"I asked her about getting the cars off the road, and she told me the cars are safe," Christian said. GM has said the cars can be driven while awaiting parts as long as people take all excess weight off the keys to ensure they don't move in the ignition.
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Christian said the families wanted to have the meeting so that Barra "could not turn away from the human side of this."
GM confirmed Barra had the meeting but did not reveal what was said.
Rimer said the families were scheduled to meet with politicians today and will have a place at the hearings later in the day.