PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Aug. 30, the Washington State Patrol was issued three citations by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries after a trooper suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in Feb. 2017 while inside his 2014 Ford Explorer police interceptor. But that could just be the beginning of their carbon-monoxide-related problems.
A tort claim filed on Sunday on behalf of WSP trooper David Hodel claims that other troopers also experienced carbon monoxide related symptoms after the agency knowingly “failed to remedy” the leaks. Josephine Townsend, the Vancouver lawyer representing Hodel, said they’re planning a $1 million class-action lawsuit against WSP.
“The Washington State Patrol is gambling with employee’s lives to save a few dollars,” the tort claimed.
Hodel, according to the tort claim, was hospitalized on Feb. 14, 2017, for carbon monoxide poisoning. The tort claims that WSP knew about the faulty exhaust problems inside their patrol vehicles before Hodel was hospitalized.
Later that summer, according to an inspection report by the Department of Labor and Industries, WSP installed home carbon monoxide alarms inside trooper’s vehicles. The one Hodel fell inside of was also returned to him with this technology. The inspection report, however, said the alarms put in trooper’s vehicles were “inappropriate for evaluating workplace exposure as they don’t detect CO at unsafe levels.”
“Additionally, employees were not trained on the operating instructions/activation levels of the home alarms.”
On Feb. 21, nearly a year after Hodel first experienced carbon monoxide poisoning, the carbon monoxide alarm in his vehicle went off. A medical evaluation showed he had elevated levels of carbon monoxide, according to the tort claim.
In July, the Department of Labor and Industries installed “appropriate” carbon monoxide detectors in the troopers’ vehicles. Between then and Aug. 31, the alarms were triggered 50 times for unsafe exposure to carbon monoxide.
“All of these vehicles have been taken to Ford dealerships and major exhaust problems were discovered,” the inspection report said.
The Department of Labor and Industries issued three citations to WSP, charging them just over $10,000. WSP said they’re appealing all three citations.
In response to the citations and the tort claim, a spokeswoman for WSP said “”To the Chief and the Assistant Chiefs, the #1 thing is Trooper safety. We’re disappointed to see the impact on Troopers. We’re going to do whatever we can to make this right.”
This isn’t the first carbon monoxide related complaint regarding Ford Explorers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has investigated “thousands” of complaints in the last couple of years, according to a CBS News report in July. Last Nov., Ford offered to repair the vehicles for free. In a statement to CBS News in July, Ford said: “Explorers are safe. Owner complaints to Ford and NHTSA have decreased since we announced our complimentary service for exhaust odor last fall as it effectively resolves the matter. If an owner continues to have concerns after the service is performed, they should contact their dealer for further inspection.”
WSP said they’re not sure if they’ll consider pulling Ford Explorers from their fleet.
“We have to have cars to put troopers in,” a spokeswoman said.
Robin Cashatt told KOIN 6 News her husband was one fo two troopers hospitalized for carbon monoxide poising in 2017. She said her husband’s heart was racing and he spent the night under a doctor’s watch.
“My husband was working an 8-to-4 shift” last Valentine’s Day, she told KOIN 6 News. “He called me about 10:30 and he was on his way home, not feeling good.”
But about 10 minutes later he called again and said he could barely see, was shaking profusely and his skin was turning white.
“I’m thinking he’s having a heart attack,” she said.
Hours later, his blood work came back and showed his carbon monoxide level was 2.7 — higher than normal for a non-smoker.
WSP Capt. Shane Nelson said Cashatt was one of 2 trooper who were hospitalized.
“We had 6, about one a month, up until July,” Nelson said. “And each one of these cases, the trooper described the same kind of nausea, dizzy, those kind of symptoms.”
The Ford Explorers, Robin Cashatt said, are “their office. This is where they do all their work.”
“It’s going to take probably someone dying, and that’s what’s sad,” she said. “Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer. He could’ve died or gotten in an accident, so it’s a scary thing.”