Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday says on Friday night, an Austin Police Sgt. was driving his patrol Ford Explorer in South Austin when he nearly passed out behind the wheel. Casaday says the officer bumped into a curb and called for assistance. He was taken to the hospital and doctors found high levels of carbon monoxide in his body.
"The injuries associated with carbon monoxide poison have to do with lack of oxygenation, primarily to the brain so you get a headache early. Sometimes nausea, vomiting, progressing to true changes in mental status and it can actually make you comatose if the levels get high enough," said ER Dr. Pamela Hite with Baylor Scott and White.
Hite says there's really no way to tell if what's happening to you is more than just a headache.
"No there really isn't. It's a colorless, odorless gas. There's no way to tell whether anything in particular is doing that to you," she said.
There are similar reports from all over the country of this happening in Ford Explorers. On Monday, Assistant Austin Police Chief Ely Reyes says they first heard about the issue in December.
"Ford issued a technical safety bulletin that had some concerns about possible exhaust leaking into some of the Ford Explorer vehicles. Namely models between 2011 and 2015,” Reyes said.
Reyes says at the time they didn't have any reports of problems from officers. They installed mobile detectors at the substations and sent out a safety bulletin telling officers about the potential problem and said they shouldn't use the "recirculated air" button in the car.
Casaday is hoping the Ford Motor Company will come up with a better solution to the problem than that.
Casaday says the in-car-computer is very close to that button and officers could accidently hit it.
Since December, Reyes says there have been three reported incidents including the one from Friday. 2 different units have been sent back to Ford.
Reyes says in the short term they have ordered 400 carbon monoxide detectors that will arrive on Tuesday.
"If it changes to certain colors then the officer driving the vehicle will know that carbon monoxide levels in that vehicle are rising," Reyes said.
And long-term the city fleet is buying detectors like this that will be hardwired into the Ford Explorers.
"These carbon monoxide detectors will be here by the end of the week and the fleet will be installing them in all of the Ford Explorers in our fleet as soon as they arrive," Reyes said.
"Law enforcement officers around the country right now have too many issues to deal with we've got an uptick in violent crime that we're dealing with here in Austin. And just like I wrote in an e-mail to our members the other day that's the last thing they need to be worrying about is being poisoned by their car when they're out trying to help people in their community," Casaday said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the situation.
Casaday says the Police Association is writing a letter to Ford hoping they'll fix this problem.
We reached out to Ford as well and haven't heard back as of news time Monday.