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.