— A Ford Explorer Police Interceptor carbon monoxide lawsuit alleges two California officers were killed in a crash caused by defects found in the Explorer.
Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Jason Garner and civilian Community Service Officer Raschel Johnson were killed responding to a call, but without the lights and siren activated.
According to court records, the crash occurred on May 17, 2017, when officers Garner and Johnson were traveling with Garner behind the wheel. The lawsuit alleges carbon monoxide allegedly entered the passenger compartment and caused Mr. Garner to lose consciousness.
The Explorer crossed a yellow line and went off the road, accelerating to about 89 mph when the SUV struck a steel post and other wrecking yard debris. The lawsuit says the Explorer hit a storage bin and caught fire, with both occupants pronounced dead at the scene.
An autopsy showed Garner’s blood carboxyhemoglobin saturation level was 19 percent and Johnson’s blood carboxyhemoglobin saturation level was 27 percent. According to the lawsuit, both levels are "alarmingly high and toxic" based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The plaintiffs claim the Ford Explorer police vehicle allowed exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide to poison the officers because of numerous defective areas of the SUV.
Alleged problem areas include:
- Behind the bumper and within the interior and exterior panels
- Defective rear air extractors
- Rear liftgates that used defective drain valves
- Sheet metal panels, overlaps, joints and seams
- Rear auxiliary air conditioning parts that were defectively designed and/or located too close to the driver-side rear air extractor
According to the lawsuit, Ford sent multiple technical service bulletins (TSBs) to dealerships concerning exhaust odors in the cabins of Explorers.
TSB 12-12-4 was sent in December 2012 and titled, “Explorer Exhaust Odor in Vehicle,” and tells technicians, “[s]ome 2011-2013 Explorer vehicles may exhibit an exhaust odor in the vehicle with the auxiliary climate control system on. Customers may indicate the odor smells like sulfur.”
The bulletin was followed by TSB 14-0130, titled “Exhaust Odor in Vehicle,” which added 2014-2015 Explorers to the list. According to the lawsuit, this is important because this TSB included the 2014 Ford Explorer modified for use by police departments.
However, the plaintiffs claim none of the repairs in the bulletins fixed the exhaust problems, and neither TSB mentioned carbon monoxide dangers.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) investigated the crash and more than a year later concluded Mr. Garner crashed the Explorer due to a health-related condition not related to carbon monoxide. An autopsy shows the driver had an enlarged heart and investigators couldn't rule out a heart-related event caused the crash.
According to the Modesto Bee, the pathologist who performed the autopsies ruled out carbon monoxide as the cause or even a contributing factor of the deadly crash. In addition, the pathologist determined both Explorer occupants had elevated levels of carbon monoxide in their blood due to smoke from the vehicle fire.
The Bee says Johnson's autopsy report shows soot was found in her airway while Garner had no soot in his airway, a possible reason why Johnson's carbon monoxide levels were higher.
Ford denies carbon monoxide had anything to do with the crash and referenced official reports from the coroner and the CHP Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team which said carbon monoxide wasn't a contributing factor of the crash.
The automaker has faced prior lawsuits after Ford Explorer police vehicle incidents allegedly caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, including lawsuits filed by three officers in three states. In addition, Ford created a program to repair Police Interceptors after numerous agencies across the country complained about their fears.
The Ford Explorer Police Interceptor carbon monoxide lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Stanislaus - Garner, et al., v. Ford Motor Company, et al.
The families are represented by the Matiasic Firm, P.C.