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Austin police again encounter carbon monoxide problem with Ford SUV

Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in Business News

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Austin police department's effort to return its fleet of Ford Police Interceptor SUVs to the street is facing new setbacks and may be significantly delayed after one of three cars put back on patrol this week tested positive for deadly carbon monoxide, officials said.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said the car was thought to have been properly repaired by a Ford facility outside Houston and was in the first batch of cars the manufacturer has returned to the city after earlier issues. It was put on the street Wednesday and Thursday after the city had done additional testing and cleared it for service.

Manley said the incident, in which two devices inside the SUV detected carbon monoxide, happened early Friday and that the officer who'd been using the vehicle was treated by paramedics called to the scene. The officer's condition did not require him to be taken to the hospital, officials said.

Ford officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

"It is fair to say I'm disappointed," Manley told the American-Statesman on Friday. "I believed we were very close to rolling this fleet back out, and this is a significant setback. Unfortunately, it appears as though there are still issues."

The Austin police department's ongoing issues with its Ford SUVS gained national attention in March, when an Austin police sergeant became seriously ill from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In the months after that incident, Austin police installed carbon monoxide detectors in cars, resulting in dozens of cases of the gas being detected in department vehicles. In July, ongoing concerns prompted the city to take the unprecedented step of parking the more than 400 cars until the cause for the leaks could be determined and repairs could be made.

Ford has said that the issues have been caused by modifications departments nationwide have made to the cars, and officials said recently that they thought that they had discovered a way to properly patch holes that were allowing leaks.

The city and Ford had developed a plan to return 20 cars each week to the city until the fleet was fully returned to the street.

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