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Woman cleared of 2004 manslaughter after GM acknowledges faulty switch to blame

General Motors acknowledged the crash that killed Candice Anderson's fiancé was the fault of a defect in her Saturn Ion's ignition switch.

By Gabrielle Levy
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Woman cleared of 2004 manslaughter after GM acknowledges faulty switch to blame
Candice Anderson with her new Saturn Ion. On Nov. 15, 2004, the car would crash, killing her fiancé. The accident has been linked to faulty ignition switches in millions of GM vehicles. UPI/Robert Hillard

CANTON, Texas, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- A Texas woman convicted of negligent homicide in the crash that killed her fiancé was exonerated Monday after the accident was connected to the faulty ignition switches found in several models of General Motors cars.

Candice Anderson was driving her 2004 Saturn Ion in East Texas when the car veered off the road, striking a grove of trees, Gene Mikale Erickson, her fiancé, was killed when the airbags failed to deploy. In 2007, Anderson agreed to a plea deal to serve five years of community supervision and $2,500.

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On Monday, Van Zandt County District Judge Teresa Drum granted Anderson's application for a writ of habeus corpus, after GM acknowledged Erickson's death was caused by the same problem that has forced the motor company to recall millions of vehicles and led to the deaths of at least 35 people.

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Robert Hillard, an attorney for Anderson, released a letter from GM's lawyer Richard Godfrey, acknowledging "the crash involving Ms. Anderson is one in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the air bag nondeployment in the accident."

RELATED GM profits down 80 percent, due to recall costs

"GM knew this defect caused this death yet, instead of telling the truth, watched silently as Candice was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter," Hillard said. "It took 10 years for GM to find its voice. How many district attorney's around the country are now wondering if they may have sent an innocent person to prison?"

The defect in the ignition switches meant they could too easily be turned from the "run" position -- by a nudge of the knee or a too-heavy keychain -- to "accessory mode," which would case airbags to fail to deploy. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation revealed GM had been aware of the issue, and fixed design of the switch in new cars, but failed to properly notify drivers of the cars with the faulty devices.

At the time of Anderson's Nov. 15, 2004 crash, investigators took the lack of skid marks of evasive action as evidence of her guilt. But according to the New York Times, an internal GM review five months before Anderson pleaded guilty found her car had mostly likely shut off as a result of the ignition-switch defect, but never bothered to release those results to Anderson or law enforcement.

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RELATED GM's woes continue with recall of more than 717,000 cars

Earlier this year, General Motors agreed to pay a $35 million fine for failing to recall vehicles with the bad switch installed long after it knew they were a deadly risk. GM set up a process for victims of crashes linked to the ignition switch problem to claim compensation.

Although some reports speculate as many as 74 collision deaths were the fault of the ignition switch, GM has only acknowledged the 13 deaths in which the collision was head-on, rather than from the side.

Ericksen's death was counted among those 13, a fact Anderson only became aware of after it was reported by the Times.

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She still has not heard from GM directly, despite its role in her crash and conviction.

"I don't expect I ever will," she said. "My plan is to take the compensation and take this clearing of my record and move on with my life."

RELATED GM CEO Mary Barra promises changes in 'culture of secrecy'

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