In both incidents airbags failed to deploy, which is one sign of
an accident related to the faulty ignition switch behind GM's 2.6
million vehicle recall. Airbags can fail to deploy in other
situations depending on the speed and angle of the impact and
whether or not the car senses a passenger in the seat.
It is not known whether in either accident the key slipped from
"run" to "accessory" position, which could indicate a faulty
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which is
probing GM's slow response in recalling the vehicles, said it is
aware of these accidents but would not say whether it plans to
launch a formal investigation into whether they were caused by
ignition switch malfunctions.
GM said it would be inappropriate to link recent crashes to its
recall of 2.6 million low-cost, small vehicles including the Chevy
Cobalt and Saturn Ion. It also has not investigated the two
"Without extensive analysis or further investigation it is pure
speculation to imply that an accident or injury involving a Cobalt
was the result of a faulty ignition switch," said GM spokesman Greg
Martin, who declined to comment on specific incidents.
The Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group, said the regulator
should launch a probe.
"NHTSA did very little if anything before the recall so it's all the
more reason to do an aggressive investigation after the recall,"
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety,
said in an interview this week. "Our advice to consumers is, 'park
GM says that Chevy Cobalts and six other models recalled globally
are safe to drive if the ignition key is used alone or on a light
key chain. Due to the defect, the ignition switch can unexpectedly
switch into the "accessory" mode when jostled or bumped.
In Texas, a federal judge is considering such evidence to decide
whether the cars should be taken off the road until they are
equipped with new ignition switches, and that decision is expected
in the coming days.
On March 7, nearly a month after GM sent out the recall, 12-year-old
Zyla Owens of Laurel, Mississippi, was killed when her mother's
recalled Chevy Cobalt ran off the road. Owens was ejected from the
car and died at the scene. The airbags did not deploy even as the
car collided with a tree.
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Owens' mother said she suddenly had trouble steering the car,
Mississippi State Trooper Chris Walker, who was called to the scene,
told Reuters. Other drivers of recalled vehicles have had similar
complaints about difficulty steering.
It is not known if the key was turned away from the "on" position,
and Owens' mother did not respond to calls by Reuters.
In a second fatal accident that has raised concerns, Lara Gass, 27,
a third-year law student, was killed on March 19 when her recalled
2004 Saturn Ion rear-ended a semi-trailer truck in Augusta County,
Gass' airbags did not deploy, according to attorney Bob Hilliard to
whom Gass' parents have turned to investigate the accident. A
witness in an affidavit supplied by Hilliard's firm also said the
airbag was not deployed.
Gass' car caught fire in the accident, said Virginia State Trooper
Ryan Martin who responded to the crash. Martin said he did not know
the position of the key in the ignition.
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal says these accidents like
these in which airbags do not deploy show that the recalled vehicles
should be parked for now.
"There is abundant evidence that these cars are risky to drive until
they are repaired," Blumenthal said in an interview with Reuters
(Reporting by Julia Edwards; editing by Karey Van Hall and Peter
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