April McCool speaks softly as she recounts the nightmare that rocked her world Saturday night – and nearly claimed three lives.
“When I opened the side door of the van, KK was foaming at the mouth, her eyes were rolled back in her head and she was making a sound like she couldn’t breathe; she was unresponsive.” It’s an image of the 3-year-old girl McCool won’t ever forget. “Every time I close my eyes I see it,” she says. “I still cry when I think about it.”
It was on Saturday night when McCool made a frantic 911 call saying her friend’s 3-year-old daughter, KK, and her own 8-year-old daughter were possibly suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, the result of a malfunction with her 1992 Plymouth Voyager van caused by one man’s carelessness.
“I know I freaked out,” she says about making the 911 call. “My daughter was crying saying she had a bad headache and stomachache and she couldn’t walk; her legs wouldn’t work.”
After McCool and the children were taken to Kosciusko Community Hospital by ambulance – and the two children transported to Lutheran Children’s Hospital in Fort Wayne for additional treatment – police and fire officials investigated the vehicle and located the problem: a soup can and some duct tape.
“I feel sad. I feel angry. I felt like it was my fault,” McCool says. “I’m just sick someone would risk their own kids lives for some money.”
The story began just a few weeks ago when McCool, a single mother on disability, offered to drive a neighbor’s children to and from school. “I just love kids and believe in education and I wanted to help,” she explains. What she thought was an act of kindness by the children’s father to fix her van in exchange for her generosity, turned into something far more sinister.
“He said my catalytic converter was going out and said he’d fix it for me if I bought the parts and a pack a cigarettes.” She explains, “The police told me they found a soup can and some burned duct tape under my van. I’m just sick. I bought everything – the catalytic converter, a filter, clamps and an extension pipe.” The total bill was about $100, which included the cost of a pack of cigarettes. “He also said he wanted the old catalytic converter which scraps out at $25 to $30.” None of the parts McCool purchased were found on her van.
Although McCool had been driving the van for a week, she credited the warm weather for keeping her and the children safe for that long. “I had my windows down all week,” she explains, “but it was cold Saturday. KK had it the worst because she was sitting closer to the exhaust.”
McCool had driven to North Manchester to attend church on Saturday. She then drove to her home south of Warsaw and made a quick stop. Although she did turn the vehicle off while she ran inside, the children stayed in the van. From there, she drove to a relative’s house in Warsaw for whom she agreed to take care of their dog while they were away. “That’s where I opened the van door and found KK,” she tells, her eyes pooling with tears.
McCool was kept at KCH for approximately 5 hours where she was given oxygen, the only treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. The two girls were transported by ambulance to Lutheran Children’s Hospital where they were also given oxygen and kept through the night for observation. Although both children were released Sunday, McCool says it’s possible they will endure long-term effects from the poisoning adding, “The doctor’s just don’t know.”
Those who suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning may experience long-term effects with brain function, behavior changes and cognition. It can also cause permanent damage to other major organs within the body, such as the heart.
McCool’s van has been impounded by Warsaw Police who are continuing their investigation. In the meantime, she is borrowing a vehicle and then plans to have a knowledgeable mechanic look at her van to see if it is worth fixing or if it is able to be fixed.
At the very least she expects theft charges to be filed against the man who put the soup can and duct tape on her van, but she also hopes for attempted murder charges. McCool explains, “They said I could’ve passed out while driving and that KK was within minutes of dying. I hope justice will be found.”