Troopers sue WSP, Ford over carbon monoxide poisoning

Washington

Troopers all suffered effects of carbon monoxide while driving Ford Explorer patrol cars

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Washington State Patrol troopers filed class-action lawsuits against Ford Motor Company and WSP saying their patrol vehicles gave them carbon monoxide poisoning, KOIN 6 News learned.

The lawsuit against Ford was filed by 6 troopers Wednesday and states the troopers suffered physical harm. The lawsuit against the Washington State Patrol was filed by 5 troopers Thursday morning. Both were filed in Clark County Superior Court.

Read the entire lawsuit at the bottom of this article

Randall Cashatt, one of the first troopers to come forward with allegations in August 2017, said he remembered “thinking I was going to die.”

“Some plaintiffs, including Trooper Cashatt, has suffered permanent neurological damage which has prevented him from continuing his job as a Washington State Patrol Trooper,” lawyer Josephine Townsend wrote.

Previous KOIN 6 News stories on WSP carbon monoxide issue

Her lawsuit seeks to represent all police and emergency workers who drove Ford Explorers for their jobs. ​

Along with Cashatt, these WSP troopers filed the lawsuit against Ford: Jeffrey Heath, Vancouver; David Hodel, Chehalis; Beth Joswick, Tacoma; Brandon Kendall, Colfax; Chad Prentice, Vancouver. A 7th trooper, Austin Lauer of Vancouver, is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit but has filed a claim with the state. ​

Neither Heath nor Lauer are involved in the lawsuit against the Washington State Patrol.

The lawsuit claims Explorer model years 2011 – 2018 have an exhaust fume defect with the climate control system which allows exhaust fumes to get in the passenger compartment. ​

Townsend blames “…metal exhaust manifolds which warped and allowed carbon monoxide to leak out and then be sucked into air intakes…” ​

About carbon monoxide

The lawsuit claims Ford’s fix was to replace the exhaust system, “which was merely a bandaid fix as the exhaust system would warp and fail again…It was not a matter of ‘IF’ but when the deadly intrusion would occur.”​

The lawsuit does not put a dollar figure on the damages, only saying they exceed $100,000.​

Ford sent KOIN 6 News a statement which blamed after-market equipment installed on the police vehicles for creating unsealed holes.

“We typically don’t comment on pending litigation. Safety is one of our top priorities. Ford has investigated and determined that carbon monoxide concerns in Police Interceptor Utilities are related to unsealed holes from the installation of police equipment by third parties after the vehicle was purchased or caused by extreme damage. All of our testing to date has not shown cracked manifolds contributing to the carbon monoxide levels in Police Interceptor Utilities,” spokesperson Daniel Barbossa wrote.

On Thursday, the Washington State Patrol said:

“The Washington State Patrol is always concerned with the safety of our employees. However, out of respect for the process and all involved, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

WSP spokesperson Capt. Monica Alexander told KOIN 6 News in October 2018 that none of the troopers are forced to drive any of the 670 Ford Explorers in WSP’s fleet.

“Our troopers safety is our chief’s No. 1 priority. This is awful and we’re working to fix it,” Alexander said at that time.

The troopers’ claims are backed up by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. The agency’s investigation resulted in 3 citations against the WSP.
The report reads, in part, “Exhaust issues have been discovered as the source of the exposure in most of the vehicles: cracked manifolds, warped manifolds, and other leaks in the exhaust system.”​

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this case.

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In a letter sent to his attorney and provided to KOIN 6 News, plaintiff Chad Prentice shares his story. This has been edited for clarity.

I’ve suffered through more serious injuries and problems than most people will ever know. I am fortunate to have the loving and caring wife that I do, because there have been days when this life didn’t seem like it was worth being here. Without my wife and kids I truly do not know where I would be today.

WSP Trooper Chad Prentice in an undated photo provided to KOIN 6 News on August 7, 2019

Just over one year ago I had the worst of 4 carbon monoxide exposures from a Ford Explorer, this one of which left me hospitalized. At 28 years old I felt like I was having a heart attack while my resting heart rate was between 182-196 beats per minute (recorded at Vancouver Fire Department off of 112th Avenue) where I pulled my borrowed patrol car over at. I was driving the wrong way in a marked car high as a kite, watching the cars swerve around me with several near collisions. The night prior to this I had almost crashed my personal Tahoe with my 6 month pregnant wife in the car, not realizing how high I was, or even the fact that I was high until I got out of the car.

This last carbon monoxide exposure left me completely deaf in my right ear for approximately 3-4 weeks before some of my hearing started to return. Since July of last year (the last exposure) I have suffered though everyday as a constant battle. I’ve had a head ache almost everyday I’ve been alive. Some say a headache is no big deal, we’ll this isn’t one of those deals. I cannot fully describe the pain but it felt like someone took and drill and drill bit and started drilling right between my eyes at the top of my nose. The pain spread from directly in the center of my head all the way to my right ear, across the front of my forehead. I’ve reached out for more help than I will ever admit to, with every doctor or nurse telling me “it should go away with time, usually within 3 months.” We’ll they were wrong, it’s been a year and while some of the pain has subsided, I’m still nowhere near right. My hearing is still a mess in my right ear, with some days being much worse than others. My head still has issues for which I cannot even describe most days.

There have been days I have wondered if I had it worse than any other Trooper in the state, but then I think of Randy. If anyone has it worse than me, I don’t know how they continue to live on a daily basis. Extreme carbon monoxide exposures are no joke, and I truly understand why there’s little to no documentation on it. Dying from carbon monoxide poising when it first happens is not a bad way to go, survive it and you may find yourself in a dark hole so deep you cannot even talk about it. I’ve questioned my sanity more times than i can admit to. There have been several days when I questioned if I could, or even should, put the uniform on I once stood behind and wore proudly. The long lasting effects have truly impacted my life severely.

I have a story that needs to be told, one of which most people know nothing about. If I can save anyone from what I have to live with it is worth the fight.

Chad Prentice

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Read: WSP Troopers vs Ford Motor Company

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