How 29-year-old Brooke Melton’s death led to the GM recall
MARIETTA, Ga. — The first time Brooke Melton’s car stalled while driving, her father insisted they take it to the dealership to be fixed.
But it happened again three days later, on March 10, 2010 — her 29th birthday. This time, she lost control of the car. It spun out, hydroplaned, hit an oncoming vehicle and rolled off the road, dropping 15 feet into a creek. Before her parents could get to the hospital, Brooke Melton was dead.
Police concluded her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was “traveling too fast for the roadway conditions;” she was doing 58 miles per hour in a 55 zone. But her parents doubted she was to blame.
“She was just so responsible about driving. I mean, we even called her scaredy cat because she was so responsible about driving,” Ken Melton said. “I knew in my heart and in my gut there was something wrong with the car, that it wasn’t her fault.”
Their skepticism, and the findings of an engineering expert they hired, first alerted the public to an ignition switch flaw. General Motors went on to recall 2.6 million vehicles for the problem.
The Meltons had already settled their lawsuit against GM by the time the recall was issued. Now that the automaker has admitted it knew of ignition switch issues 10 years before the recall, the family has filed a new lawsuit asking a judge to reopen the case, and accused a GM engineer of lying about his knowledge of the flaw.
General Motors told CNNMoney it “denies the assertion that GM fraudulently concealed relevant and critical facts in connection with the Melton matter.” It said the results of an internal investigation into the circumstances will be released Thursday. The GM engineer did not return CNNMoney’s calls.
‘Not about the money’
Ken and Beth Melton are convinced their daughter’s death was due to the flawed ignition switch. They say her car’s data recorder shows that the ignition was switched out of “run,” to the “accessory” position, seconds before the crash, citing an expert they hired. That can disable power steering, anti-lock braking and the airbags. The airbag in Melton’s Cobalt did not deploy.
The GM dealership that worked on the car days earlier received a bulletin that GM distributed to dealerships in 2006 about the problem and should have fixed it, the Meltons claim. Their lawsuit also names the dealership, which declined through its attorney to speak with CNNMoney.
Brooke Melton isn’t on General Motors’ list of 13 ignition switch-related deaths, GM CEO Mary Barra said, because the company is only counting head-on crashes where air bags did not deploy. Federal regulators say the death toll is likely higher.
Beth Melton accuses the automaker of “playing with numbers.”
“Enough of this posturing. Enough of trying to say ‘we didn’t do anything wrong,'” Ken Melton said.
The Meltons say they thought the case was behind them when they settled with GM in September 2013. Revelations emerging from the 2014 recall changed their mind.
“Not only did General Motors’ defect cause their daughter’s death, but then (GM) withheld evidence,” their attorney, Lance Cooper, said. The Meltons “did not have all the information that was necessary before they settled their case.”
They acknowledge that persuading a judge to reopen the case is difficult. But Cooper said the “evidence is overwhelming” and shows that GM “fraudulently entered into” a settlement.
The terms of the Melton’s settlement were not disclosed. And the Meltons say the effort to reopen the lawsuit isn’t about the money.
“We want to know who at General Motors knew, and what General Motors is going to do in the future, and what happened to Brooke and who allowed it,” Beth Melton said.
This time, the Meltons say they won’t settle, and intend to fight all the way up to the Georgia Supreme Court if necessary.
Not far from their home, Brooke Melton’s battered 2005 Cobalt still sits in storage, its steering wheel removed by investigators. The Meltons took CNNMoney to see it — the couples’ first time seeing their daughter’s car since they cleared it of her belongings four years ago.
“I want people to see how violent the impact was and that her death is not being counted — it means like it doesn’t matter,” he said.
The Meltons insist GM should have notified owners earlier, and the dealership should have fixed Brooke’s car.
And they believe that her crash led to the recall. Cooper’s law firm hired engineering expert Mark Hood, who collected GM ignition switches from cars and junkyards and discovered the problem.
In February, General Motors began the ignition switch recalls.
“Every time I see a recall from General Motors, I give a nod to Brooke,” Beth said. “These people need to know that there are problems with their cars and people are finding out — and I think it has a lot to do with the case that started with our daughter.”