Chevy crash victim's mom: Meeting with GM 'was a waste of my time'

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By Scott Stump

Renee Trautwein, whose daughter was killed in a 2009 crash involving a Chevy model that is now under recall by General Motors, found little comfort in a Monday meeting with GM's CEO Mary Barra.

“Again, it was scripted,’’ Trautwein told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Wednesday. “There was no dry eye in the room except Mary Barra. Her lawyer actually asked for a Kleenex, which she never used. I felt it was a waste of my time. I felt I was more there for a group parent session of our grief than anything to do with GM trying to make up to us for it.”

GM has recalled 2.5 million vehicles worldwide in the past two months after finding a link to faulty ignition switches and airbags that failed to deploy. Officially, GM says it knows of 13 deaths and 32 crashes connected to the defective parts. Sarah Trautwein's is not one of the deaths that GM has acknowledged. 

Sarah was driving a 2005 Chevy Cobalt when she was killed after the car went off the road and hit a tree. The car’s airbags never deployed, police said. The cause of the accident, including whether the car's ignition switch was faulty, is under investigation.

Trautwein is named as a plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against GM filed by Texas attorney Bob Hilliard. On Tuesday, Barra was grilled for hours in Congress about when GM first learned about the faulty part. GM has launched an internal investigation and also has hired attorney Ken Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. As of now, GM has not committed to a financial settlement.

“I need to get the results of the study to make all determinations,’’ Barra told members of Congress. “I want to know the answers to the questions you’re asking. Those are the questions I want to answer.”

“In fact it made me more upset because she was scripted,’’ Trautwein said about Barra. “No answers were given. It’s a cover-up, total cover-up. It’s obvious. We just found out last Friday that Sarah’s airbags in fact did not open and there was a front impact. The fact that everyone from GM is still there is amazing.”

GM has admitted it ordered a fix for new cars in 2006 but never told existing customers they were at risk. Government regulators said they were never told, either.

“Our ability to find defects also requires automakers to act in good faith and to provide information on time,” acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Friedman told Congress on Tuesday.

Barra has reiterated GM's apology, saying, "Especially to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured, I am deeply sorry."

The Trautweins had believed that their daughter fell asleep at the wheel. They learned about the recall a few weeks ago, and only found out six days ago that the airbags did not deploy in their daughter’s crash.

“It was haunting me,’’ Trautwein said. “It was like Sarah was saying, ‘Mom, I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel.’ Because I had been mad at her, and I think she’s finally saying, ‘Mom, stop.’ I called my brother and said I have one question, because I’ve never seen the car. I’ve been really weak through all this, and I asked him if the airbags were open, and he said no.”

“It’s hard because we thought we had an answer, and we were coping with the fact that she died peacefully while she was sleeping at the wheel, and now for us as a family, we have to think about, ‘What was her last thoughts?’’’ Phil Trautwein, Sarah's brother, told Guthrie. “Was she fighting for her life? Was she trying to steer straight? Was she trying to get out of the car? And for us, that’s something that we’ll never know, and that’s something that GM, in a way, took away from us, so for us it’s tough.”

The Trautweins hope the lawsuit can get other potentially defective cars taken off the road.

“There are still 2.5 million of these automobiles,’’ Renee Trautwein said. “I want GM to get on breaking news, (and) tell everyone to take their cars (in) now. Don’t drive them anymore.” 

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