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Faulty GM Ignition Switch Can Kill in More Ways than One

Wednesday, April 05, 2017By Richard Alexander

Faulty ignition switches on GM cars have caused hundreds of accidents over the years. One of these cases is especially gut-wrenching. This is the story of Denis Herndon, a former drug addict who, after his recovery, started a chain of drug treatment centers to help other people like him.

On the fateful night of July 16, 2012, Herndon was giving a lift to David Aroian in his 2003 Saturn Ion. The car was close to Big Bear Lake in California when the engine suddenly shut off, disabling the power brakes and power steering.

Before the occupants realized what was happening, the car careened off the road and crashed into the trees, finally landing belly-up in a pond. Denis was thrown into the back seat. David remained strapped to his seat with his head under the water.

A couple in a passing car heard the commotion and stopped to investigate. When Ashley Schroepfer and her husband found David, he was screaming for help and his passenger was unconscious. The couple quickly extracted the accident victims from the car. Because their conditions were serious, both of them were airlifted to a nearby hospital.

David died the next morning. Denis survived after being in a coma for a night. Unfortunately for Denis, he had spent precious moments under water before being rescued. Consequently, he began to suffer from recurrent seizures due to oxygen deprivation.

Medical staff conducted a blood test on Denis, which showed that he had been drinking. The accident was therefore attributed to drunk driving. When Denis recovered, he was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter. Left with few options, Denis pleaded guilty and was handed a six-year prison sentence.

About one year into his sentence, Denis received a recall letter from GM. His Saturn Ion was among five million GM cars with a faulty ignition switch that could cause affected cars to switch off suddenly, making the brakes useless.

Until then, Denis had blamed himself for the crash. He often told his family that he deserved to go to jail for killing David. But when he heard about the recall letter, he began to allow himself to hope that maybe he wasn’t the cause of David’s death. He had told his family earlier how the car had suddenly shut itself off, causing him to lose control.

He petitioned for a retrial but was denied. Denis became despondent, which is family believed was partially fueled by his former drug habit. Nine months after he received the recall letter from GM, Denis hanged himself in his cell.

Denis' family feels he was let down by the justice system. Ashley Schroepfer remembers how Denis pleaded with her and her husband to save David. For him to take his own life, especially after learning the defective switch caused the wreck, is hard for them to accept.

Denis' parents have now joined a large number of other victims, all of whom suffered because of the defective switches, in a class-action lawsuit against GM. His parent’s hope that ultimately they will finally see the justice Denis was denied. It will be a vindication of sorts. Tragically, though, their son won't be around to see it.

It was an unnecessary tragedy for Denis Herndon to die by his own hand because of the negligence of a corporate giant like GM. The company can recall its switches, but Denis’ life is lost forever. If you or a loved one was involved in a crash due to a defective product, contact us at the Alexander Law Group, LLP or call 888.777.1776. All calls are free and confidential.

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