Mississippi teen’s fatal crash connected to GM recall

On Your Side
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SOUTHAVEN, Miss.  -- WREG has uncovered another fatality possibly connected to those faulty General Motors ignition switches.

A Mid-South family turned to the On Your Side Investigators to share their story of loss and, most of all, frustration that recalled cars are still on the road.

Vivacious and full of life is how Tom Taylor and Sherry Thompson describe their daughter Jessica Taylor.

"Very ambitious, very sweet," Jessica's father said.

Her mother added, "You couldn't stop her from doing anything."

Jessica rode her first horse and even competed at the tender age of 2 years old.  She later learned and taught gymnastics to young children.

"She cared about people, she had a big heart," Thompson said.

On September 6th, 2009, 19-year-old Jessica and her fiance Andrew were headed home for Labor Day.

Thompson said, "I was all excited waiting on her, and she was supposed to be there, I think 2:15, so at 2:20, I started worrying."

Hours later, Thompson says patrol cars pulled up to her house.

"He said, 'I'm sorry, there's been an accident,'" she recalled.

"I can remember just seeing the blackness, just over and over and over," Ronnie "Andrew" Fortune, Jessica's fiance at the time, said.

Jessica and Andrew were headed south on Interstate 55 near the Tate and Panola County line. Jessica was driving Andrew's 2006 Chevy Cobalt.

According to the accident report, the car left the road and flipped multiple times.

Neither Jessica nor Andrew were wearing seat belts. She was ejected.

Andrew told WREG, "I looked through the vehicle and she wasn't there, and I looked 50, 60, 70 feet away, and that's when I finally found her."

Just like that, Jessica was gone.

Taylor told the On Your Side Investigators, "At the time, I really didn't know what happened, how she lost control."

A former tow truck driver, Taylor walked the scene of the accident searching for clues. He saved car parts and created a memorial that hangs in front of his home, and one at the accident site.

"It changes your life forever, it's like a wound that never heals," Taylor said.

The memorial Taylor placed in the grass off I-55 to mark Jessica's final resting place is long gone, but just this year, new evidence surfaced that took the family back to that spot all over again.

Jessica's mom said, "She's been gone for five years and now I find out it was the car, instead of something she did."

WREG asked, "What were your thoughts after finding out, an ignition switch?"

Thompson said she was disappointed in GM.

"You just always think that their reputation, they're going to take care of people," she said.

Jesssica didn't have a license, but that inexperience that left her family with years of guilt may not have mattered.

The '06 Chevy Cobalt she was driving is one of the models recalled this year by General Motors due to faulty ignition switches.

Reports: History of problems for recalled cars.

Like others associated with the recall, the accident report reveals the airbags didn't deploy.

WREG also obtained pictures police took at the scene, including one where the ignition key clearly looks like it's in the off position.

According to experts, when this happens, the driver loses power steering, and essentially control of the car.

Fortune said, "It ain't my fault, it was not my fiance's fault that they designed a faulty product."

While Taylor says the revelation actually brought him a bit of closure, he "became quite angry with General Motors, even to this day, you know I see cars out on the road."

That's why Taylor contacted the On Your Side Investigators.

WREG was one of the first to report on the slow pace of repairs.

When Taylor spotted a yellow Cobalt in Southaven, he tracked down the owner to ask if it had been fixed.

He told WREG, "Let's get these cars off the road...anything to prevent another tragedy."

After initially not having enough parts to complete repairs, a spokesperson told the On Your Side Investigators that's no longer a problem and GM is "working hard to repair the recalled vehicles as quickly as possible."

The spokesperson also added that GM's efforts to reach customers have been comprehensive, including six separate customer mailings, recall notices in ongoing service reminders, as well as targeted ads on digital and social media.

The company has a dedicated call center, and has asked dealers to offer extended hours and even given away gift cards.

Still, out of the 2.6 million recalled, nearly half remain on the road.

Thompson said, "I don't get to see her walk down the aisle and get married, I don't get to see her have a baby, I don't get to see all of that because of malfunctioning of a vehicle."

Jessica's parents have a simple message for General Motors: "Please do something with these millions of cars out there, pull them in. Save a life, not put somebody else in jeopardy," Taylor said.

WREG asked Jessica's mother, "What will bring you any sort of peace? "

She replied, "When GM gets these cars off the road and nobody else has to die."

Jessica's parents have filed a claim with the fund created to compensate victims and families who lost loved ones. They haven't heard whether it's been approved.

So far, 100 claims have been deemed eligible. General Motors won't say how much it's paid out so far.

The deadline to submit claims is January 31st.

Check for GM recalls here


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