Mother of GM Crash Victim: Why Is the Justice Department Allowing GM to Get Away With Murder?

Federal prosecutors have agreed to settle a criminal probe into General Motors for concealing an ignition switch defect linked to at least 124 deaths. Under the deal, General Motors agreed to pay $900 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, but no GM executives will be prosecuted for covering up the deadly defect. The Justice Department’s deal with GM has been widely criticized by consumer advocates and families who lost loved ones. Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, said, “GM killed over 100 people by knowingly putting a defective ignition switch into over 1 million vehicles. … Today, thanks to its lobbyists, GM officials walk off scot-free while its customers are six feet under.” We speak to Laura Christian. Her daughter Amber Rose died after her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed and the air bag failed to deploy on July 29, 2005. Amber was just 16 years old. Since then, Laura Christian has become an auto-safety advocate. She runs the Facebook page “GM Recall Survivors.”

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Federal prosecutors have agreed to settle a criminal probe into General Motors for concealing an ignition switch defect linked to at least 124 deaths. Under the deal, General Motors agreed to pay $900 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, but no GM executives will be prosecuted for covering up the deadly defect. Last year, GM recalled 1.6 million cars containing the faulty ignition switches that could cause their engines to stall, while cutting power to brakes, airbags and steering systems. On Thursday, US Attorney Preet Bharara announced the GM settlement.

PREET BHARARA: We are here this afternoon to announce the filing of criminal charges against General Motors Company related to the company’s failure to disclose a safety defect from its regulator and from certain purchasers of its pre-owned cars. At the same time, this office and GM have entered into a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve those charges. As part of the agreement, GM has agreed to pay a $900 million penalty or forfeiture. GM has agreed to the appointment of an independent federal monitor for a period of three years. And GM has made critical factual admissions.

The statement of fact details how GM designed an ignition switch for the Cobalt and other compact cars with such low torque that it could slip out of the run position into accessory or off while the car was driving. Cutting power to the engine also cut off power to the front airbags. So if the key slipped out of the run position during a crash, the driver and front passenger could lose the protection of those airbags.

AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department’s deal with GM has been widely criticized by consumer advocates and families who lost loved ones. Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, said, quote, “GM killed over 100 people by knowingly putting a defective ignition switch into over 1 million vehicles. … Today, thanks to its lobbyists, GM officials walk off scot-free while its customers are six feet under.” The $900 million GM settlement is 25 percent less than the record $1.2 billion Toyota agreed to pay last year for concealing safety defects.

To talk more about GM, we’re joined by three guests. Ralph Nader is with us, the longtime consumer advocate, former presidential candidate. Fifty years ago, he published the groundbreaking book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile.

Rena Steinzor is also with us, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and immediate past president of the Center for Progressive Reform. Her latest book is called Why Not Jail?: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

And Laura Christian joins us. She is the mother of Amber Rose, who died after her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt crashed and the air bag failed to deploy on July 29th, 2005. Amber was 16 years old. Since then, Laura Christian has become an auto-safety advocate. She runs the Facebook page, GM Recall Survivors.

Let us begin with you, Laura Christian. Can you go back to that day – I hate to make you do this – but the day of your daughter Amber Rose’s death, and talk about what happened? Where was she?

LAURA CHRISTIAN: Certainly. Well, she was at a party, and she was on her way out and hit an incline. Her car went airborne, struck multiple trees, and she was pinned down by the dashboard itself. And, unfortunately, she didn’t make it. I got the call early that morning. I can still – I can still imagine it. It’s like I’m still there some days, standing by that glass door and hearing that and just screaming, “No!”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you understood at the time happened?

LAURA CHRISTIAN: Well, shortly after, actually, at her funeral, EMTs approached us and told us that the airbags did not deploy and should have deployed. An investigator was hired shortly after, which told us that the car was actually in the accessory position, which we now know shut down the power brakes, power steering and also caused the airbags to never deploy.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that it is the ignition defect that caused Amber’s death?

LAURA CHRISTIAN: Oh, absolutely. That’s been confirmed by our investigator. It’s been confirmed by NHTSA and, later on, finally, by GM.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your response to GM settlement, the $900 million settlement?

LAURA CHRISTIAN: First of all, I’d love to know how they came up with that number. It’s absolutely ludicrous that GM is able to write a check to get away with what is tantamount to murder, in my opinion. You know, the fact that there are going to be absolutely no individual prosecutions, I mean, that means that all of our loved ones that died, they will have died in vain. I can’t comprehend this.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the US attorney spoken with you? Will your family be compensated? And how do you feel about that compensation?

LAURA CHRISTIAN: Well, GM – we did settle with GM, but this is not about the money. You know, speaking with – I did speak with the Department of Justice previously. They let me know that they were finding it very difficult to find ways to prosecute individuals. Now, I’m not a legal scholar; I can’t really voice opinion to this. But, you know, having worked in law enforcement before, I know that there are ways. This is not the first time a corporation has done acts of evil-doing, you know, and others have been prosecuted for it. You know, why not this time? I really want the answer to that question.