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Exclusive: GM apologizes for sending recall notices to victims' families

By Marilyn Thompson and Paul Lienert

(Reuters) - General Motors on Tuesday apologized to families of accident victims who have been notified to bring in cars for replacement of defective ignition switches.

"We are deeply sorry to those families who received a recall notice," said GM spokesman Greg Martin in response to questions from Reuters.

GM has recalled 2.6 million of its most popular models to replace a defective switch that it has linked to 13 fatalities. Some families who lost loved ones in fatal crashes have complained that GM should not have sent them notices to bring in cars for repairs.

Terri DiBattista, who lost her 16-year-old daughter Amber Marie Rose in a 2005 Maryland accident involving a Chevrolet Cobalt, told Reuters she received two recall notices from GM last week asking her to bring in the vehicle to fix the ignition switch and power steering. The car was destroyed when Rose crashed into a tree.

The postcards were mailed to the family at its new address in South Carolina, where DiBattista said they moved to recover from the loss. Sent by a local GM dealer, the cards detailed three different recalls GM has issued involving the Cobalt in recent months.

DiBattista said GM could have identified the destroyed car through a simple check of Vehicle Identification Numbers.

Rose has been identified as one of the 13 victims GM links to the faulty switch.

Federal regulators now say they believe that GM’s death toll is an undercount. A Reuters analysis of federal crash data found at least 74 people have died in General Motors cars in accidents with some key similarities to those that GM has linked to the defective switches.

Martin said in an email that GM "continues to look into all claims we are made aware of in the recall population."

Some families say they are still seeking answers on whether fatal accidents could be linked to the switch.

Kim Pierce, who lost her 17-year-old son, Austin Sloat, in a crash in Maine involving a 2004 Saturn Ion, said she learned about GM's problems with a defective switch from news reports early this year. She then obtained a police accident report that showed the driver's side air bag did not deploy when he crashed at high speeds into a tree. Another teenage driver was charged in the accident, which involved racing.

Pierce has hired an attorney and contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding the incident that led to her son's death.

Martin declined comment on whether GM was reviewing Sloat's case.

"Out of respect for their privacy, we do not discuss private conversations we may have had with family members or their legal representation," he said.

Pierce and other victims' families have asked the NHTSA, which regulates GM, to give them more information about the fatal accidents.

The NHTSA has said they are helping families to get answers from GM by asking the car maker to provide additional information on its vehicles.

(In paragraph 12, corrects name to "Pierce" from "Sloat.")

(Reporting by Marilyn Thompson and Paul Lienert; editing by Andrew Hay)

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