April 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

'Their lives could have been saved'

As victims are identified in crashes tied to GM recall, families want info

Marie Sachse’s deadly car crash never made sense to her family.

The weather was clear and the road familiar to the 81-year-old when she lost control of her 2004 Saturn Ion in February 2009.

She veered off Highway 67 near St. Louis and struck a tree head-on but her air bags didn’t deploy. She died at a nearby hospital about eight hours later from her internal injuries.

It wasn’t enough time for her daughter, Lisa Sachse Warfield, to reach her bedside to say goodbye.

“It was very heart-wrenching,” said Warfield, the youngest of Sachse’s four children, who lives in Atlanta. “I want to know what happened to my mother. I have a right to know.”

On Friday, after poring over thousands of General Motors Co. documents, staffers of a congressional committee released the most complete list yet of 13 deaths linked to flawed ignition switches in Saturn Ions and Chevy Cobalts. GM has said that it knows of 13 deaths and at least 31 crashes in which air bags did not deploy that may be tied to an ignition switch defect. The switches can move into “accessory” mode, turning off the engine and disabling power steering and air bags.

GM has refused to release the names of those who died, but officials have said that nine of the crash victims were traveling in Cobalts and four other deaths involved 2004 Saturn Ions. Company spokesman Kevin Kelly on Friday would not comment on the list of 13 victims compiled by staffers of the House committee investigating the delayed GM recall or confirm that they are the 13 deaths GM has said are tied to the faulty ignition switches.

Sachse’s crash in an Ion was listed but she was not named by congressional staffers. The News was able to confirm her identity through interviews and crash records.

Sachse, who spent much of her life as a stay-at-home mom, enjoyed her later years trading inside jokes with her family and testing her luck at the slots and bingo. She was quick witted and healthy enough to live on her own, her family said.

Warfield is angry that her mother’s final hours were filled with fear and pain. And she wants answers from GM.

After the accident, the family hired attorney Jim Dowd, who had a former GM air bag designer investigate. But he couldn’t answer why the the air bag never deployed.

The black box didn’t record data on the crash, Dowd said, which he believes is because the power went off when the ignition went into accessory mode. The family ended up settling with General Motors because the crash happened days before the company entered bankruptcy and Dowd said they “hit a wall” with the company. He wouldn’t disclose the settlement amount.

GM recalled 2.59 million vehicles globally in February and March citing defective ignition switches that it said are linked to 13 deaths and at least 31 crashes.

The affected vehicles include 2005-10 Cobalts, 2003-07 Ions, 2007-10 Pontiac G5s, 2006-11 Chevy HHRs, 2006-10 Pontiac Solstices and 2007-10 Saturn Skys.

Questions about the circumstances surrounding Sachse’s crash resurfaced in the weeks after the massive recall, when reporters began contacting the family.

“To know they knew about it and hid it ... really sickens me,” Warfield said. “Their lives could have been saved. ... We want answers.”

Here are some details about the victims and the incidents leading to the other deaths, based on research by the congressional committee. The victims in two Ion crashes are not yet identified.

Amber Rose, 16 Charles County, Md.

Amber Rose, 16, died in a July 29, 2005, crash in Charles County, Md. The teen was leaving a house party, speeding as fast as 69 mph through a cul-de-sac when her 2005 Cobalt went off the road. She hit a large tree, then several smaller trees before the car rolled onto its side.

Air bags did not go off and the ignition switch was found in the “accessory” position.

Rose was not wearing a seat belt and had a blood-alcohol level of .17. The teen was working on getting her general education degree and hoped to attend community college.

Rose’s adoptive parents, Terry DiBattista and Jim Rose, reached a settlement with GM years ago. Her birth mother, Laura Christian, has been a vocal GM critic and is pursuing legal action against the company.

Amy Rademaker, 15 St. Croix County, Wis.

Amy Rademaker, 15, was killed in an Oct. 24, 2006, crash in St. Croix County, Wis. The 2005 Cobalt she was in left a two-lane roadway and traveled through a ditch, where it hit a telephone utility box and then a clump of trees. The car’s key wasfound in the “accessory” position and the vehicle’s air bags didn’t inflate.

Natasha Weigel, 18, died as well. But her death is likely not being counted in GM’s tally because she was in the back seat and wouldn’t have been protected by the frontal air bags.

The driver, Megan Phillips, now 24, survived but has permanent and severe brain damage. None of the teens was wearing a seat belt. Rademaker was a high school sophomore and wanted to be a daycare teacher.

At a press conference of victims’ families in Washington earlier this month, Ken Rimer, the stepfather of Natasha Weigel, said: “Rather than fixing the problem, they chose to keep producing the Cobalt, with the ill-fated ignition switch, and selling it to an unsuspecting public.”

The deceased teens’ families and Phillips are suing GM.

Amy Breen, 42 Lyndhurst, Ohio

A 42-year-old woman was killed in an Oct. 16, 2007, crash in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Based on police records and federal crash reports, The News has identified her as Amy Breen, a teacher whom a witness said was seen “slumped over the steering wheel” as her 2005 Cobalt careened off the road at up to 75 mph. The car hit a sign post, a guard rail and two trees. Breen died at a local hospital. She had a medical history of epilepsy, according to her autopsy. The air bag didn’t deploy and GM investigated the accident, according to court records.

Zachary Schoenbach, 19, and Joseph Harding Jr., 19 Berrien County, Mich.

Zachary Schoenbach, 19, and Joseph Harding Jr., 19, died in a September 2008 crash in Berrien County. Harding lost control of a borrowed 2006 Cobalt and slammed into a tree in Lincoln Township, near St. Joseph in southwest Michigan. The air bags didn’t deploy. Harding was wearing a seat belt, but Schoenbach wasn’t.

Blood tests showed that Harding had a 0.12 blood-alcohol content. A private investigator for GM quietly began probing the crash, unbeknownst to the teens’ families. “They knew. They knew. That’s what hurts so bad,” Harding’s mother, Pam Harding, 51, said in an earlier interview with The News. “I lost my son for a measly part.”

Grace Elliot, 13 Esther Matthews, 73 Knox, Pa.

Grace Elliot, 13, and her grandmother Esther Mathews, 73, died on a two-lane highway in a rural area of Knox, Pa., April 2, 2009. A drunk driver crossed into their lane, hitting them head-on. The air bags failed and the 2005 Cobalt was in accessory mode, according to an investigation initiated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The two weren’t wearing seat belts and died at the scene. A 1-year-old in the back seat survived, but suffered a severe spinal injury.

Dany Dubuc-Marquis, 23 Granby, Quebec

Dany Dubuc-Marquis has been identified by media as the lone Canadian death GM acknowledges is connected to ignition issues. Canada’s Global News reported that the 23-year-old died on June 22, 2013. He was at the wheel of a red 2007 Cobalt when he lost control of the vehicle. Crash scene photos carried by the news network show his car came to rest in the woods off Highway 139 northwest of his hometown in Granby. Global News reports that Transport Canada linked the accident to the ignition problem.

Hasaya Chansuthus, 25 Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Hasaya Chansuthus, 25, died Dec. 31, 2009, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in a crash on Interstate 24. Just before 2:30 a.m. her 2006 Cobalt sideswiped another vehicle as she drove west on Interstate 24.

Her car left the roadway and ran head-on into a tree. Her air bag did not deploy, according to the police report, but the Nashville resident was wearing a seat belt. Testing would show a blood-alcohol level of .19. Her family filed a lawsuit against GM that was settled in early 2011, according to the New York Times.

Gene Erickson, 25 Ben Wheeler, Texas

One fatality occurred in Texas on Nov. 15, 2004. Based on autopsy and federal crash data, The News has identified that victim as Gene Erickson, 25, of Canton, Texas. Erickson was the front-seat passenger in a 2004 Ion that ran off the road in rural Ben Wheeler, Texas, and hit a tree.

Erickson wasn’t wearing a seat belt and court records indicate the driver was on drugs at the time of the crash. The driver, Candice Anderson, was charged with intoxication manslaughter. GM court filings say Anderson was “intoxicated on illegal drugs,” according to police reports. In October 2007, she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, criminally negligent homicide. Anderson and Erickson’s family sued GM and reached settlements before the recall.

Families of victims of a General Motors safety defects hold photos of their loved ones as they gather on the lawn on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 1. / J. Scott Applewhite / AP