The death of a young woman found unresponsive in a car in Ingersoll on Feb. 15 has been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, Oxford County OPP have confirmed, prompting police and the coroner to issue a warning about the potential dangers of sitting inside a running vehicle.
The 20-year-old Bayham woman was pronounced dead in the parking lot of an Ingersoll business on Charles Street West after someone reported a suspicious vehicle in the area, OPP said.
Acting Sgt. Ed Sanchuk confirmed police have attributed the death to carbon monoxide poisoning although further tests are pending.
“In older vehicles, small leaks can develop in the exhaust system, leading to a potentially deadly buildup of carbon monoxide in the interior of the vehicle. Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas that can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and even death,” Sanchuk said in a media release.
Sanchuk said police do not believe the victim was homeless, but instead was likely in the car for a short period leaving the vehicle running to stay warm when temperatures had dipped as low as minus 12 degrees overnight. Police are treating the death as accidental.
“We wanted to remind people, if you have an older car please make sure you’re getting it inspected regularly by a reputable mechanic to make sure you do not have any exhaust leaks,” Sanchuk said.
The Oxford County community is no stranger to the potentially fatal dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. On Dec. 1, 2008, Laurie Hawkins, a 41-year-old Oxford OPP community services officer, was discovered barely alive by fellow police officers in her carbon monoxide-choked home in Woodstock. Her husband Richard and children, Cassandra, 14, and Jordan, 12, were found dead at various locations in the home, a result of a build-up of carbon monoxide due to a blocked vent in their fireplace.
Rushed to hospital, the popular OPP officer died several days later of carbon monoxide poisoning.
After her death Laurie’s uncle John Gignac, a retired Brantford firefighter, started the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation to raise awareness about carbon monoxide alarms. Working with Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, Gignac helped spearhead what became the Hawkins-Gignac Act, provincial legislation that requires carbon-monoxide detectors in every Ontario home.
An Ingersoll school, Laurie Hawkins public school, was named in her honour, paying tribute to her work as a community services officer.
Local fire departments are also reminding residents to ensure the vents around their home are clear after snow in recent days. Clearing the vents will ensure carbon monoxide is safely vented outside your home. Residents should also have working carbon monoxide detectors outside sleeping areas and on each level of the home.
Police offer the following tips to keep your vehicle safe:
- In situations where you’ve gone off the road in a winter storm, make periodic checks to ensure your tailpipe is free of snow while you await rescue.
- On vehicles that are more than five years old, have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car or truck every year. A small leak in the exhaust system can lead to a build-up of CO inside the car.
- Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open. Always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car or truck inside.