GM recall is too late for Brooke Melton

Brooke Melton. (Courtesy)
Brooke Melton. (Courtesy)

A lot of things happen on a rainy night in Georgia, but for a 29-year-old pediatric nurse it was a fatal accident.

In March 2010 Brooke Melton, was driving her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt to her birthday celebration when a defective ignition switch caused the motor to shut off. Without power, she lost control of the car, crossed the yellow line and hit another on-coming vehicle at 58 miles per hour, finally coming to rest in a creek.

This might have been yet another horrific story of a young woman killed on a rain-slicked highway except for one thing — General Motors allegedly knew the switch was defective long before the accident happened.

The defective ignition switch turned off three seconds before the accident happened and disabled her power steering, antilock brakes and airbags, according to black box data obtained from Melton’s Cobalt. Transcripts from the civil suit against GM pointed out that a GM engineer allegedly had the same problem when testing the vehicle in 2004.

In 2005, the attorney for the Melton family said General Motors sent a bulletin to their dealerships. The notice urged them to install a “cap” over the switch. This was referred to it as an “improvement” but not something that fixed the problem, according to the Cobalt’s engineering manager in a deposition in June 2013.

Brooke Melton's car. (Screenshot)
Brooke Melton’s car. (Screenshot)

In 2008, the defective switch was replaced by another in that year’s models and none have been recalled. On Feb. 13 of this year, a recall was issued for GM models that used the defective switch, almost 10 years after the problem surfaced and almost one year after  GM enginner Gary Altman testified.

Current laws mandate automakers report a safety defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration within five days, once they are discovered. Thirteen deaths and 31 crashes have been attributed to the problem although Melton’s death was not counted in the total number by GM since it was not a front-end impact. Nearly 1.37 million GM vehicles had been recalled by the end of February and all shared the same defective switch.

Brooke Melton’s father said his daughter took the Cobalt to a dealership in Georgia because she experienced the same problem she had with the ignition switch on her birthday but that time she was able to safely pull the vehicle over to the shoulder of the road.

She picked the car up at the dealership, Ken Melton said, and was told the problem was fixed.

She died the next day.