Ford, transportation officials to survey Austin police SUVs

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

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Ford Motor Company continues to state they haven’t found any issues with carbon monoxide leaks in their Police Interceptor Utility Vehicles, the Austin Police Department still has to deal with CO detectors going off in their units indicating there are potential leaks.

“To be quite honest with you, getting phone calls from loved ones and from officers everyday, I am beyond pissed that this city and Ford Motor Company have not fixed this problem,” said Austin Police Associate President Ken Casaday.

He tells KXAN the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration along with Ford engineers are in Austin this week to investigate what could be causing the leaks. This is the second time this year both groups have come to Austin to work on the SUVs.

Casaday is setting a deadline for drastic measures should the issues aren’t fixed.

“This has become so dangerous to where if we can’t get this resolved in the next week or so, what I plan on doing is having officers come to work tell their supervisor that they are here to work, they’re here to protect the community, but they refuse to get into those vehicles,” Casaday said. “Have the city order them to go to work in those vehicles that are poisoning officers on a weekly basis.”

A city spokesperson says right now 61 police SUVs and four non-police SUVs are pulled from service until they’re tested for CO leaks. The department has a total of 397 Ford SUVs in its fleet. Last week, several Austin police officers were taken to the hospital after the CO alarms in their vehicles went off. No officers were injured. 

“The safety of our folks when they come to work is the most important thing. We’re working both with Ford and The National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration to find out how we can make these vehicles safe, and we’re looking at if there are other options to how we modify our fleet to mitigate the impact these vehicles are having on both our officers an staff.” – City of Austin Spokesperson

According to a CNN Money report, Ford issued a statement earlier this month stating, “We have investigated and not found any carbon monoxide issue resulting from the design of our Police Interceptor Utility Vehicles. We know police modify these vehicles, which can contribute to exhaust-related issues. We have provided instructions to help seal these modifications and are ready to inspect any vehicles with this concern. Also, we will cooperate with NHTSA on this investigation, as we always do.”

The NHTSA says it is in contact with APD and is “actively investigating to determine if this issue is related to a potential safety defect.” The agency originally opened an investigation into the complaints involving 2011-2015 Ford Explorers in July of 2016. Once the agency reviews all the data available, it will take “appropriate action as warranted.”

The agency says it has identified 154 complaints involving exhaust odors in the compartment of Ford Explorers. Initial information indicates the leak happens when users are operating the vehicle with full throttle applications (e.g. climbing steep grades or merging onto freeway ramps) and/or the use of air conditioning system in recirculation mode.

One APD sergeant is suing Ford Motor Company and Leif Johnson Ford for damages his attorney claim were related to CO poisoning. According to the suit, Sgt. Zachary LaHood was working on March 18, 2017 when he became nauseous, light-headed and had cognitive difficulties, headaches and blurred vision. LaHood told KXAN he almost lost consciousness and nearly crashed into an oncoming bus before pulling his Ford Explorer over and calling for help.

Casaday says his officers are fed up and want a resolution.

“We’re tired of playing games and the finger pointing, and we need to get this fixed before someone gets more seriously hurt than Sgt Zach LaHood,” Casaday said.

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