Austin police SUVs rolling again after carbon monoxide issue resolved


Highlights

Repairs are complete on all but one of the 397 SUVs sidelined because of carbon monoxide leaks.

The city and Ford still disagree about what led the poisonous gas to get into the passenger compartments.

Austin officials are soon to announce that they and Ford Motor Co. have completed repairs on the city’s fleet of nearly 400 police Interceptors and returned them to the street, almost a year after the sport utility vehicles were sidelined because of carbon monoxide leaks that sickened several officers.

On Tuesday, officials said that only one of 397 vehicles has pending repairs, which were expected to be completed within several days.

The city and Ford continue to disagree about what led the poisonous gas to get into the passenger compartment of the vehicles, which make up the majority of Austin police patrol units.

A Ford spokeswoman said this week that the company stands by its previous statements that the issue was caused by modifications made to the SUVs by vendors or police departments. A city spokesman referred questions about what led to the incidents to Ford.

RELATED: Austin police to deploy fleet of Ford SUVs after carbon monoxide woes

The case has been investigated for months by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the federal agency did not return an email this week about the status of the inquiry.

The city also said it had not yet calculated how much the situation cost Austin taxpayers, including the use of rental cars over the past several months by some specialized units.

The city began experiencing difficulty with the vehicles in March 2017, when Austin police Sgt. Zachary LaHood became ill while driving his SUV on patrol. In a videotape, he is heard telling officers that he almost hit a bus and struck a curb before he was able to stop.

RELATED: All Ford police SUVs likely to be taken off street, city officials say

LaHood is now suing Ford, and his case is pending, his attorney said Tuesday.

In response, the city installed carbon monoxide detectors in each of its vehicles, triggering dozens of alerts over the next four months. Several dozen officers were treated at emergency rooms for possible exposure to the poisonous gas, some of whom reported symptoms.

By July, the city stopped using all the vehicles until workers could identify what was causing the issue. Ford agreed to help seal holes that it said were made by outfitting the vehicles with various pieces of equipment, including specialized lighting, and said last summer that testing had shown that those seals prevented the flow of carbon monoxide.

RELATED: Feds arrive to inspect Austin police fleet in carbon monoxide case

The decision to park the vehicles has left officers riding two-per-car instead of operating solo, but officials have said the shift has not led to substantially increased response times.



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