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Seven years after Natasha Weigel’s death, Wisconsin family gets answers

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ST. CROIX CO. (WITI) -- What happened to a Wisconsin couple's daughter is the subject of a federal investigation sending shock waves through the automotive industry. A fatal error in corporate judgement sent a Wisconsin family to Washington, and into the court system.

A roadside memorial in St. Croix County marks the spot where 18-year-old Natasha Weigel and her friend, 15-year-old Amy Rademaker lost their lives in 2006.

"It was about 38 miles-per-hour when it impacted the tree," Weigel's stepfather, Ken Rimer said.

Pictures of the crash show the vehicle partially wrapped around a tree.

The vehicle left the roadway, and the tires left the pavement as the vehicle flew through the air before coming to a stop.

None of the people inside were wearing seat belts.

The driver survived, but the passengers did not.

Doug Weigel lost his 18-year-old daughter Natasha.

"It was a hard moment. I haven't cried like that in a long time," Doug Weigel said.

"She passed away in our arms," Weigel's stepfather, Ken Rimer said.

Ken Rimer watched helplessly.

Natasha's mother, Jane Rimer, lost her only child.

"I'll never get to be a grandmother, or the mother of the bride," Jane Rimer said.

Unfortunately, the teen who died in front of them wasn't Natasha.

"I really thought that was my daughter," Jane Rimer said.

"Amy Rodemaker was the young girl that died in our arms," Ken Rimer said.

"We all said 'you better get that mother in here right now. She missed her own daughter,'" Doug Weigel said.

Rodemaker passed away first. She was misidentified at the hospital because of the severity of her injuries.

Natasha Weigel's fight to survive lasted more than a week. Time passed as she remained in a coma.

On the 11th day in the hospital, her fight came to an end.

"I wanted to be there for her in her life, and I'll never have that chance," Jane Rimer said.

"I spent the first two weeks coming home after work balling in my car," Doug Weigel said.

"We always looked for an answer, but we figured it wasn't going to come to us until we met these girls in heaven ourselves, and maybe they'd have the answer for us," Ken Rimer said.

Seven years later, an answer was finally delivered.

In February, General Motors announced the recall of millions of vehicles due to malfunctioning ignition switches -- including the Chevrolet Cobalt the teens were in.

A part inside the console could fail -- switching a vehicle out of its running position -- instantly cutting off things like power steering and safety features.

Rimer believes the small amount of weight added to the car ignition key -- the keys attached to a key chain -- could have led to crash that ended Natasha Weigel's life.

"There's no words to describe how that...makes me very angry," Jane Rimer said.

Ken Rimer and other families spoke outside of the Capitol in Washington D.C. around the time GM's C.E.O., Mary Barra, was answering questions from lawmakers.

It was during this process legislators released documents claiming the company knew about the ignition flaw for more than a decade -- with one lawmaker saying the fix could have been made for just 57 cents per part.

"Unfortunately, it cost my daughter's life," Rimer said.

"You don't put a car on the road with the possibility that it's unsafe and someone from GM did that," Doug Weigel said.

GM promised a full investigation into what happened -- including the manufacturing of the faulty part.

In 2006, it was altered to increase the strength and safety.

Normally when that happens, a new number is assigned to the new product -- but in this case, that was never done.

That made tracking down the flaw more difficult for investigators. The family argues it concealed cost-cutting that cost lives.

"It smells like a cover up from what we've been hearing," Ken Rimer said.

GM apologized to the families of 13 victims linked to the flawed ignition parts. Natasha Weigel's family believes she was the second or third casualty in that group.

GM's CEO shared her condolences directly to the families in a closed-door meeting.

"She just told each family she was sorry," Doug Weigel said.

"We accepted her apology, yeah," Ken Rimer said.

"It was all very scripted and she had two lawyers beside her that shook our hands and said 'I'm so sorry for your loss' and she went around to all 13 families. It was all very guarded and scripted and I found that very painful," Jane Rimer said.

On the road to truth, one family failed to find closure, but did find answers -- including what may have killed their loved one, and what may have triggered the tragedy.

"I believe it was corporate greed," Jane Rimer said.

"I'd rather have my daughter back. I'd rather have everyone have their children back -- but in the end, I hope GM gets things right," Doug Weigel said.

The General Motors investigation and perhaps the federal one are set to wrap up weeks from now.

Both Natasha and Amy's families are part of a lawsuit against GM.

It is unclear whether they will receive any money because after the car was built, GM went through bankruptcy and is viewed as a new company -- and not necessarily responsible for prior problems.

Weigel's mother is hoping for criminal charges in this matter.

 

 

 

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14 comments

  • GM Recall Survivors

    Let’s hold GM accountable for their actions. Please, please sign this petition. If you or I injured or killed another human being, we would be held accountable and rightly so. So should GM be held to a different standard. Frankly my friends, GM knew about this in 2001. No one had to die. They looked at it again a few months before our Amber died in 2005. Again they did nothing. And again in 2006 and 2007. Never have I seen a corporation act with such malice. Please help us and sign.
    http://www.change.org/petitions/u-s-house-of-representatives-and-u-s-senate-and-president-of-the-united-states-prosecute-to-the-fullest-extent-the-employees-from-gm-involved-in-the-cover-up-and-gross-neglegence-concerning-the-2005-2007-chevy-cobalt-and-pontiac-g5?share_id=RhYwkTYyzT&utm_campaign=friend_inviter_chat&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=permissions_dialog_false

    • Linda

      GM may be at fault for this part,but Cory is right about the seat belts, maybe the outcome would have been different if the girls had their seatbelts on, my sympathy goes out to the families who lost their loved ones,but the girls should have a seatbelts on, it’s the law isn’t it.

    • Tim

      It’s pointless to speculate if the seat belts would have helped, sure they could have been still alive or be paralyzed for life or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.
      Regardless the airbags didn’t deploy and they had no control over the vehicle because of the ignition switch killing power to everything.

  • Tifany

    Mr. Weigel, I’m so sorry that this has happened. My heart breaks for you, your family and all other friends and families who have lost someone and are affected by this. G.M. knew the problems existed prior to filing their bankruptcy which is why they did. Seat belt or no seat belt isn’t the problem, had they been wearing the seat belts and survived, their quality of life wouldn’t have been the same. The medical bills would be outrageous. Any amount of money does not change the pain of losing a loved one. The G.M company itself needs to accept responsibility, take blame, find their morals and help make this right.

  • Kim

    I do agree that they should have been wearing their seat belts but that is not the issue here. They would have never gone off the road if it hadn’t been for GM and that company should have to pay knowing that there was something wrong with parts of those vehicles. If one of us would have gotten behind the wheel and we “malfunctioned” we would be held accountable as should GM regardless if this happened prior to their bailout. They are still the same shady company in my eyes and this only makes it worse if they are doing nothing to help these families. I don’t think I will be looking for a GM made vehicle ever again. I have owned one and there were things wrong with that vehicle that I was told was “wear and tear” though I only had 1500 miles on it. They weren’t willing to help me and that was minor things so they better change their mind and help these families and all the other families out there that still own these vehicles. My heart goes out to those families.

  • steve

    it’s sad, but the loss of ignition and power steering? the car would still have brakes. why was no one wearing seatbelts? it’s too bad. the ignition switch problem is not good, but it in itself did not cause the accident that took these young lives.

  • Doug Weigel

    Steve the amount of time in which the car shut off left the driver no time to react. with that being said, yes the car loses all power brakes, power steering and no electrical power to activate the airbags. Take in to consideration of the sudden feeling of no poweering. and the black box shows the time frame of the car shutting of and crashing was a matter of seconds from 55mph. And as a mechanic I know how the systems work so the switch shutting the car off did cause this accident and many others like it. Please don’t make comments that take away from the facts of what GM did with these cars by putting them on the road with faulty switches.

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