3 US Marines died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a motor vehicle. Vehicle experts explain how this could happen

3 US Marines died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a motor vehicle.  Vehicle experts explain how this could happen

Raleigh, North Carolina (AP) – What seems accidental Three US Marines were killed Those who experienced carbon monoxide poisoning in a car parked at a North Carolina gas station raised questions about how the situation could have played out outdoors.

Deputies from the Pender County Sheriff’s Office found the men unresponsive in a privately owned Lexus sedan in the coastal community of Hampstead. Autopsies conducted last week by the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office determined that all three died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Sgt. Chester Ward of the mayor’s office said ongoing investigations indicate it was accidental.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that many carbon monoxide deaths in the United States occur inside homes or enclosed garages, auto experts say some vehicle breakdowns can cause injuries outdoors.

These malfunctions are usually noisy or smelly. If a vehicle’s exhaust system breaks or leaks into the cabin, occupants typically hear the engine making noise, said Jake Fisher, senior director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. Corrosion on an older car, like the one implicated in the Marine Corps death, can cause the hood to fill with exhaust gases, which Fisher said can then be sucked into the cabin through the intake cavity between the hood and windshield.

“You’ll absolutely hear a bang,” he said. “There would be a lot of warning, which is why a case like this is so rare.”

Fisher said that although carbon monoxide has no odor or color, an exhaust leak would also release other chemicals with a noticeable odor.

Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the body’s organs. Headaches can cause throbbing, confusion, and drowsiness, followed by loss of consciousness, convulsions, and eventually death.

It’s almost impossible for carbon monoxide poisoning to happen in a car without warning, Fisher said, unless the occupants are already asleep or hurt.

Officials did not release a toxicology report or explain the details that led to the Marine’s death.

They could have been resting at the gas station with the air conditioning turned on to recycle the cabin air, said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering. If exhaust fumes leak indoors, the recirculated air conditioner will not draw in any outside air to mix with the exhaust, causing poisoning.

“Trying to nap in a running car is never a good idea, in my estimation,” Brannon said. “Recirculated air is the most effective way to cool a car. And also more dangerous for this very reason.”

If the air conditioning is not set to recycle, he explained, it may pull in fresh air and push polluted air out.

Three Marine fortune tellers from Camp Lejeune, including Tanner J. Sheriff’s deputies found them early Sunday morning, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of their base, after the mother of a Marine reported her son missing.

Brannon said rust likely caused holes in the car’s exhaust and floor, which caused fumes from the engine to escape into the passenger compartment. Exposure to salt from the ocean can cause rust, Fisher said, and older car parts can develop leaks over time. Garcia drove his 2000 Lexus with him from Florida.

If the car has also spent some of its life in northern states where corrosive salt is used to clean roads of snow and ice, Brannon said, holes from rust formation are very likely.

It’s usually safe to sit in a parked car for an extended period, Fisher said. But drivers should pay attention to warning signs and have them checked annually. Vehicles are more prone to exhaust leaks after an accident and should be inspected before being returned to the road.

“The engines emit a lot of very dangerous chemicals and gases,” Fisher said. “If your car isn’t running properly and you hear it sounds funny, you really need to get it checked out.”


Associated Press automotive writer Tom Krisher contributed reporting from Detroit.

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