General Motors released a scathing probe Thursday about long-running ignition-switch problems in its cars that have resulted in at least 13 deaths. But Laura Christian, whose daughter Amber Rose died at the wheel of one of those cars, wonders whether it went far enough.
"For GM to have known about this issue for so many years, I'm not sure that I or anyone can trust what GM is saying," said Christian, a Harwood resident who is suing the automaker and has organized other families affected by ignition defects in the company's cars.
The company-commissioned investigation, released Thursday, isn't complimentary. It concluded that a pervading atmosphere of incompetence and neglect at GM led the company to allow a deadly problem to fester for 11 years before anyone acted to correct it.
But the report, by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas, did not find a GM conspiracy to cover up the facts or evidence that employees made a trade-off between safety and cost. It blamed poor judgment by some employees and a lack of communication within the company.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra dismissed 15 people as a result of the investigation into why the automaker delayed recalling defective cars. Five other GM employees were disciplined.
The report absolved Barra and other top executives of charges that they failed to act, saying that the information about the problem did not reach their level of the company until January.
In the probe, more than 350 interviews were conducted with over 230 people at GM and its suppliers. It also reviewed more than 41 million documents to examine why the automaker waited until this year to correct the problem in about 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars, mostly from the 2003 to 2007 model years.
"Overall, the report found that, from start to finish, the Cobalt saga was riddled with failures, which led to tragic results for many," Barra told 1,200 employees Thursday at the automaker's Tech Center in Warren, Mich.
GM still faces investigations into the ignition-switch problem by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Justice Department and Congress.
Some in Congress saw the company's probe as a whitewash. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, called it "the best report money can buy."
"It absolves upper management, denies deliberate wrongdoing and dismisses corporate culpability," he said.
For her part, Christian said she's particularly interested in what the Justice Department will find.
She reunited with her daughter a decade ago after giving Amber up for adoption. The girl died the next year at age 16 while driving her Cobalt. The air bags didn't deploy.
Drivers were killed or injured in cars with the defect because the ignition switch suddenly flipped out of the "run" position in certain conditions — such as driving on rough roads or when the driver had an especially heavy key ring. That disabled key functions such as the air bags and power steering.
At least 13 deaths have resulted, and likely more, according to federal regulators.
Christian, a former federal investigator, said she believes at least 120 deaths are linked to the defect, based on police reports and other information supplied by families. She started a Facebook page in March — shortly after GM announced ignition-switch recalls — to connect with others in the same situation.
She wants to see criminal charges brought against GM employees. The company disclosed this year that it received reports of the defect before her daughter died.
"Anyone who knew and did nothing should be held liable," Christian said.
Congressional panels, meanwhile, are examining why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't step in to force GM to recall the defective cars.
"I won't be letting GM leadership or federal regulators escape accountability for these tragedies," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat.