A West Virginia man whose wife and unborn child died in a 2006 traffic crash in Mount Airy is suing General Motors, claiming that a faulty ignition switch in her car was responsible.
The May 2, 2006 death of Keisha Dawn Vest, 26, of Princeton, W.Va., is still vividly recalled locally due to circumstances regarding Vest being on a cell phone at the time.
“She was talking on the cell phone with her mother,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton recalled Thursday of the wreck, remembering that Vest’s mother subsequently disclosed details of that conversation.
“The mother called and said she was on the phone with her (Vest) when it happened — she actually heard her dying.”
Vest had been commuting from her home in West Virginia to Northern Hospital of Surry County, where she was employed as an MRI technician. She was four months’ pregnant and already had a son.
Earlier this month, Vest’s husband filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Mercer County, W.Va., Circuit Court, naming both General Motors, and two other entities, Delphi Automotive and Ramey Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge, as defendants.
The suit generally claims that cost-saving measures by the Detroit automaker supplanted safety standards in General Motors vehicles and fostered the presence of defective equipment.
In the case of Keisha Vest, who was operating a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt, it is alleged that an ignition switch, made by Delphi Automotive, caused her death as she drove to work in Mount Airy on the morning of May 2, 2006.
The accident occurred when Vest’s brakes are said to have failed at the exit ramp from Interstate 74 onto U.S. 601 and she lost control of the vehicle and it went into a path of a tractor-trailer at the intersection. The car’s airbags also failed to deploy.
The Charleston attorney representing Jason Vest, Robert Bastress of the DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons law firm, said Thursday he was aware of the cell-phone conversation. But that is not the main issue surrounding the woman’s death, Bastress contends.
“It is my understanding that she was on a hands-free device at the time,” the attorney said. “It definitely doesn’t change the fact that if the airbags had deployed she would be alive today,” Bastress added of the phone conversation.
“It doesn’t change the fact that the defective nature of the ignition switch caused her death.”
The Charleston attorney further said of the plaintiff’s case that “we wouldn’t agree that there’s any negligence on the part of the driver,” and the automaker and other defendants are liable.
Vest had been driving the Chevy Cobalt for about two weeks when the wreck happened.
Jason Vest, who is requesting a jury trial, is seeking relief for his wife’s pain and suffering before she died, her lost income, medical and funeral expenses and family sorrow over her loss, according to West Virginia media reports about the case. In addition to active damages, the suit seeks punitive damages, statutory damages and attorney costs.
The lawsuit states that General Motors had known about the defective ignition switches since 2001 at least, but failed to inform the public about the problem until this year, based on media reports.
Millions of vehicles were sold in which the ignition switches were prone to slipping out of the “on” or “run” position during operation to the “off” or “accessory” position. This would suddenly cut power to the airbags, the power steering and the braking systems, according to lawsuit documents cited.
General Motors disclosed earlier this year that the ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalt models from 2005 to 2007 were defective and initiated a recall of the cars to correct the problem. An internal document cited in the suit suggests that a design change was refused because of money, time and the possible ineffectiveness of the replacement.
The company reportedly has received at least 248 complaints of airbags failing to deploy.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.