After Md. teen’s death, family fights for General Motors accountability

HARWOOD, Md. — In 1988, Laura Christian gave up her daughter for adoption. For some birth mothers, that is the last time they see their child, but that wasn’t the case for Christian.

In 2004, she received a phone call from her daughter’s adoptive mother telling Christian her daughter wanted to see her.

Later that year, Christian was reunited with her 15-year-old daughter, Amber Marie Rose.

“She was not only beautiful, but she was also very, very smart,” Christian says.

For the next year, Christian and Rose got to know one another; Rose even took a job working for Christian. But their reunion didn’t last long.

Just before 4 a.m. on Friday, July 29, 2005, Rose was headed home from a party when she lost control of her new 2005 Chevy Cobalt on Derby Court in Dentsville, Charles County. The car left the road and struck a tree. Both alcohol and speeding were factors in the crash, The Washington Post reported in 2005.

Rose died later at the hospital.

Rose’s adoptive parents were grief-stricken as was Christian. To make matters worse, they found out that Rose’s airbags never deployed after the crash.

“The EMT technicians that I spoke to at the time told me that if the airbags had gone off, [Rose] would be alive today, she would have been injured, but she would have been alive,” Christian says.

Rose’s parents, along with Christian, hired a private investigator to look into the crash.

“We were told that the ignition switch was actually in the accessory position, which in effect turned the airbags off,” Christian says.

Christian says Rose had become the first person to die from a faulty ignition switch in a Chevy Cobalt, but she wasn’t the last.

The ignition-switch issue is now the center of a recall of 1.6 million cars by General Motors. This recall comes after an initial recall in February, when a repair call went out for 780,000 Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s made between 2005 and 2007.

GM admitted heavy key rings and bumpy roads could cause a key to slip in the accessory position, disabling the airbags. So far, the defect has been behind at least 13 deaths and 31 accidents on U.S. roads. A new report compiled by the Center for Auto Safety puts the number of deaths involving Chevy Cobalts between 2005 and 2013 citing “airbag” as a component at 17.

The car-maker admitted that they knew about the problem as early as 2004, a year before Rose’s accident. The company issuing a service bulletin in 2005 to their dealerships warning them of the issue.

Christian says that after the accident she began studying the case, and urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to look into the problem after she found data showing similar situations with the car model.

“I was hoping to prevent this from happening to anyone else, but unfortunately they were not interested in speaking with me nor receiving the information,” Christian says.

Christian says Rose’s adoptive parents settled with General Motors shortly after the accident in 2005. As part of the agreement, they were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement, which doesn’t allow them to talk about the case, she says.

After meeting in 2004 and even after the accident, Christian remained in contact with Rose’s parents. Then, when news of the recall came out, Christian says she received a call from Rose’s mother who “asked me to be the voice for this cause, for our cause.”

As the recall was issued, questions were immediately raised about when General Motors first knew about the ignition switch problem. The NHTSA is now investigating to find out whether GM waited too long to recall the vehicles.

Christian says she knows the answer to that question: “I am absolutely appalled that it has taken them this long to do anything about it,” she says.

As Christian looks to get the word out, she is receiving help from Capitol Hill. She has been in contact with the office of Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who on Wednesday sent a letter to the NHTSA urging them to require car-makers to send accident reports to NHTSA’s publicly available database, the Early Warning Reporting system, when they become aware of fatalities involving their cars.

“The current Early Warning Reporting system is too little, too late,” Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement. “We need to overhaul the Early Warning Reporting system so that NHTSA is not looking at auto defects through a rearview mirror. Making more information public can help prevent accidents and deadly crashes, and I look forward to hearing from NHTSA on this important matter.”

Christian says she would also support new legislation, if need be, “that would require different and better reporting on accidents such as these not to mention accessibility of that data to consumers in a meaningful way.”

Christian says she and Rose’s adoptive parents have a hard time discussing her death.

“It’s something that we’re doing because we would hope to prevent this from happening to anyone else,” she says.

What keeps them going, Christian says, is the thought that Rose is looking down on them from Heaven “and cheering us on.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been modified to indicate the crash involved speeding and alcohol

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