A mother's 'life mission': Seeking truth on GM's recall

Laura Christian with Amber Marie Rose, upper right, and two other children in an undated photo. Next week, Christian and the parents of at least three other Cobalt crash victims plan to attend two congressional committee hearings where GM CEO Mary Barra is scheduled to testify.

Photo credit: LAURA CHRISTIAN
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  • Vehicle Safety
  • Recalls
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  • In the month since General Motors recalled the car that her daughter died in, Laura Christian has taken it upon herself to make sure others know what she now knows.

    Anytime Christian sees one of the recalled cars near her Maryland home, she goes out of her way to flag down the driver or ring the owner’s doorbell.

    She says none of the more than 25 owners she has told about the recall had already heard about it, despite heavy news coverage and recall notices GM sent out starting March 10.

    “Which is really terrifying because they have these cars and they’re driving around in them,” Christian said. “I’ve driven quite a few miles following people. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I’m just very passionate in making sure they know.”

    Christian’s 16-year-old daughter, Amber Marie Rose, was killed in July 2005, the first known fatality connected to GM’s faulty ignition switch. After the recall announcement finally explained why the airbag in Amber’s Chevrolet Cobalt failed — but revealed that GM had opportunities to act sooner — Christian devoted herself to digging for answers and trying to prevent more deaths.

    The role is a natural fit given Christian’s experience as an investigator for the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, a job from which she left two years ago due to multiple disabilities. As a result, she has emerged as one of the most determined and vocal critics of how GM handled the recall of 1.6 million cars.

    “It’s pretty much my life mission now,” she said.

    She started a Facebook page called “GM Recall Survivors,” with Amber’s photo at the top, as a way to connect victims’ families and share news stories. She worked with the office of U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who on Tuesday introduced the first piece of legislation tied to the recall, and the Center for Auto Safety, which has been critical of GM and federal safety regulators on the matter. She also is trying to schedule a meeting with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

    Next week, Christian and the parents of at least three other Cobalt crash victims plan to attend two congressional committee hearings where GM CEO Mary Barra is scheduled to testify.

    Christian gave Amber up for adoption at birth. The two had reunited on July 29, 2004 -- one year to the day before Amber’s Cobalt sped through a neighborhood cul-de-sac and crashed into a tree. Amber, who was drunk, speeding and not wearing a seat belt, died of severe liver lacerations nearly two hours after the early-morning crash.

    Investigators hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the ignition was in “accessory” mode, which would have prevented the airbags from deploying.

    Amber’s adoptive parents reached a confidential settlement with GM years ago. Christian was not part of that case, though she said she is considering a lawsuit now.

    You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter