“I don’t where I got the nerve, but it sure felt good.”

So says Christina Catalano, after her brief confrontation with Chrysler CEO Sergio Marcchione at a dinner yesterday night sponsored by Automotive News World Congress, as part of the North America International Auto Show in Detroit.

Catalano is the daughter of Linda Catalano who died on August 3, 2008.  The 55-year-old mother and grandmother had completed a garage sale and had left her home several blocks away to collect the remaining sale signs along the road.  She evidently stopped the vehicle along the roadway to pick up a sign.  She placed her vehicle into what she must have believed to be Park and opened the door and stepped out of the Chrysler Mini-Van to pick up her signs, with the engine running and the driver’s side door open.  The vehicle then “self-shifted” into reverse, knocking Catalano to the ground and dragging her underneath the left front tire, where it pinned her.

The Catalanos sued Chrysler over this longstanding defect, but the litigation was swept away by the Chrysler bankruptcy and sale to Fiat. Christina and her brother had attended the dinner, with a vague plan for her brother to stand up in the middle of the crowd and demand that Chrysler help the defect victims abandoned in the bankruptcy. But Christina, a 31-year-old UAW steel mill worker noticed that no one was near the stage where Marcchione was giving his speech about the ailing auotmaker’s future prospects. As the CEO concluded his remarks with a commitment to accountability, Catalano walked onto the stage and took the microphone from the event moderator.

“I thought, ‘What a perfect transition. Here he is talking about accountability and here I am ready to tell him how he needed to finally take some,’” she recalled. “I don’t remember exactly what I said. My adrenaline was pumping. I said, ‘You want talk about accountability, but you left hundreds of victims in the dust. My mother was killed by a Chrysler defect.’ He didn’t reply. I said, “If it was your mother who was killed by this, you would be up here, too.”

Security hustled Catalano off the stage and out of the room. News accounts made a brief mention of her appearance, without bothering to find out who she was.

Christine Catalano, as a bankruptcy activist, had been sending Chrysler letters, protesting in front of the headquarters and asking for a meeting.

“He’s ignored us, and we never got a response. But it’s not like he could avoid me last night.”

Catalano said that her mother’s sudden death has been “hard and devastating,” the crash has been all the more galling by its cause – a false park condition that the company has been well aware of for decades.

“I consider it murdering my mother,” she says. “This could have been prevented. When they take accountability, then maybe I’ll stop. Until then, I’m going to keep coming back and coming back.”

More on the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies and the victims they left behind.

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