APD officer with carbon monoxide poisoning sues Ford, dealership

Zachary LaHood (KXAN Photo)
Zachary LaHood (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police Sergeant Zachary LaHood is suing Ford Motor Company and Leif Johnson Ford stemming from a carbon monoxide poisoning incident in March.

Unnamed companies, who attempted to remedy the defects in the police vehicle, are also included in the lawsuit. LaHood is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

According to the lawsuit, LaHood was working as on-duty police sergeant for APD at around 1:30 a.m. on March 18, 2017 when he became nauseous, light-headed and had cognitive difficulties, headaches and blurred vision.

LaHood, who joined APD in November 2004, almost lost consciousness and nearly crashed into an oncoming bus before pulling his Ford Explorer police vehicle into a parking lot and calling for help, the lawsuit continues.

Officers and medical personnel arriving noticed a strong exhaust smell in the vehicle. LaHood was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning.

“I remember feeling a headache,” LaHood said in an interview with KXAN’s Brittany Glas. “A dull headache at first in the front of my head.”

He continued, “Essentially, I died from the inside out that night. I just suffocated from the inside out.”

Austin Police Department Ford Explorer (KXAN/File Photo)
Austin Police Department Ford Explorer with possible carbon monoxide. March 18, 2017 (KXAN Photo)

The lawsuit claims Ford and Leif Johnson — or one of the unnamed companies — manufactured, marketed and sold a product that was “unreasonably and dangerously defective in its design.” It goes on to claim that various design elements of the vehicle allow poisonous carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment.

According to the lawsuit, Ford failed to notify the general public of the exhaust and carbon monoxide defect despite knowing it had potentially life-threatening consequences to occupants of the vehicles.

The defect was especially risky to LaHood and other officers, his attorney says, because police vehicles are normally left running throughout the officer’s shift in order to avoid the need to reboot the vehicle’s computer system.

Brian Chase, their attorney, says he is representing several officers from around the country that have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while driving their Ford Explorer patrol cars.

“When I was contacted by Officer LaHood and learned of his incident, unfortunately, I was not surprised. Ford has issued at least two Technical Service Bulletins in an effort to fix the CO2 problem. It has failed to fix the problem,” Chase said in a statement.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into this problem last summer after receiving several hundred complaints,” he continued. “I have personally informed NHTSA that I represent police officers that have suffered personal injuries from this defect. It is time to recall these vehicles and get them off our nations highways before a police officer or a member of the motoring public gets killed.”

The police department has installed carbon monoxide warning systems in the patrol vehicles since the March incident.

“I could have gone head on into a family of four,” LaHood said. “Ford needs to step up to the plate and take these cars — every one one of those cars, get them off the road.”

In a statement, Ford said there have been instances where customers detected an exhaust odor in Explorers and Police Interceptor Units, but they don’t believe it poses a safety risk. They also say odors can be caused by non-Ford modifications or repairs that weren’t properly sealed.

Other Police Departments

Law enforcement agencies across the country have Ford Explorers in their fleet and the agencies in Central Texas are no different. Here’s a list of how the departments are handling the CO issue as of May 2017.

Austin ISD PD: They have 16 Ford Explorers that fall under the affected years of 2011-2015. All have CO detectors installed.

Cedar Park PD: They have 35 Ford Explorers. The department has installed CO detectors that will be changed out periodically per the prescribed schedule.

Hays County Sheriff’s Office: They only have one in service that fits the recall and they have made arrangements for monitoring the carbon monoxide issues. All other models are newer Explorers.

Pflugerville PD: The city has two 2016 Ford Explorers, none that fall into the years 2011-2015. The rest of the fleet is made up of Ford Escapes.

Round Rock PD: They have 14 Explorers that fall into the years 2011-2015. The agency is not installing CO detectors at this time, but they’ll continue to monitor this situation and adjust accordingly, if necessary.

San Marcos PD: They currently have 27 Ford Explorers in its fleet. The department has purchased enough CO detectors for installation in all of its patrol vehicles regardless of manufacturer due to the nature of police work (high vehicle idle times, etc.)

University of Texas PD: They currently have 17 Ford Explorers that fall into the years 2011-2015. The department had installed CO detectors. Two to three of their Ford Explorers have been identified by VIN and are being sent back to Ford to be checked.

Travis County Sheriff’s Office: They have the latest model in their fleet. All of their Explorers have CO detectors.

Williamson County Sheriff’s Office: They currently have five Ford Explorers. While they haven’t had any issues, they are looking into installing CO detectors.

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