A young woman journeys back from GM car crash

By Chris Mondics

The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Published: Friday, April 25 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

They told Donna Gilbert the person whose head was wrapped in bandages and whose body was a crush of broken bones was her daughter. But there was no way Gilbert could tell from looking at her, so swollen and bruised was her face.

It was only after she checked for her daughter’s butterfly tattoo on a thigh that she was sure.

“He (the doctor) said ‘Prepare yourself for the worst,’ ” Gilbert recalled. “I kept shaking my head and saying, ‘No, this isn’t my daughter.’

“So we pulled the sheet up, and saw the tattoo and that was it.”

Hours earlier, Gilbert’s daughter, Jacqueline, had been flown by medevac helicopter from Chambersburg in southeastern Pennsylvania to the Hershey (Pa.) Medical Center after her 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt veered off northbound Route 11, slid on its side, and smashed into a utility pole. A state trooper called Donna Gilbert around 5 a.m. on May 5, 2012, at home in Philadelphia, about 45 minutes after the crash.

A short time later, Donna Gilbert was in a car with her ex-husband and his wife, driving to Hershey, where doctors told her they didn’t know whether Jackie would regain consciousness.

“I lost all track of time,” Gilbert, an office worker for the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation department, says of the anxious hours and days that followed.

Of the things that happened the night her Chevy Cobalt veered off the road, Jacqueline Gilbert remembers very little.

And that is probably a good thing.

Gilbert, 27, suffered severe head injuries and multiple broken bones and spent 15 days at the Hershey Medical Center in a coma, where she underwent surgery to relieve a blood clot on her brain.

When she regained consciousness, a painful recovery began. She had to learn again how to talk, eat, read the military manuals she needed for her work as a military police sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, how to shop, and how to read a newspaper.

Simple things she had taken for granted, like bathing and dressing, were, for a time, tasks that required the help of her mother. Her speech is still occasionally slurred, she is unable to drive yet, and she has short-term memory lapses requiring her to write to-do lists and program her cellphone alarm for many daily tasks.

On April 4, Jacqueline Gilbert joined a growing legion of owners of Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions, and other General Motors cars who have sued the auto manufacturer, alleging the company was aware of a safety defect in ignition systems but failed to alert the public.

According to government regulators, and the carmaker itself, the GM models’ ignitions have a tendency to slip into the “off” position if slightly jostled, or even if a driver uses a too-heavy key ring. That, in turn, shuts off the power steering and brakes, making the car harder to control, and prevents the air bags from inflating.

Gilbert’s lawyers, the Philadelphia plaintiffs firm Eisenberg Rothweiler Winkler Eisenberg & Jeck PC, say even though the car was junked and the ignition system no longer is available for inspection, the long record of safety problems makes it the likely cause of the accident. Just as important, photos of the crashed car show its air bags did not inflate.

“It is clear that in this accident, none of the air bags deployed, even though there was a significant collision,” said Gilbert’s lawyer, Nancy Winkler. “What we do want manufacturers to do is to produce products that are safe. They knew they had these faulty ignition switches in their cars, they have known for years, and not only did they not change the part, they didn’t recall the vehicles; they didn’t warn the public.

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