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Bellevue woman pushes Congress for change after parents die by carbon monoxide

Posted at 6:45 PM, Aug 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 14:48:33-04

BELLEVUE, Neb. (KMTV) — Last week, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry held a town hall in Bellevue, taking people’s questions on the president, healthcare--and something he didn’t expect. A woman asked him to sponsor a bill that may have saved the lives of her parents.

This past April, Thomas and Ann MacKinnon had their bags packed, ready to go on an Alaskan cruise. Sometime in the evening, Ann returned to their Bellevue home after grabbing some last-minute items.

“Getting out of the car, slight senior moment, moment of distraction, whatever--and she didn't realize the car was still running,” said David MacKinnon, son of Thomas and Ann.

Their 2017 Hyundai Tuscan, like many vehicles driven in the U.S., has a keyless ignition and only turns off when you press the button again.

While some like this feature--it cost Thomas and April their lives. The couple died in their late 70’s from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The two went to bed with the car still on. At some point, Ann collapsed on the floor.

"My father very likely may have seen that or heard that and woke up and immediately went to her and they were found at the foot of the bed, my dad holding my mom with his head bowed over her," said Sharon.

Their kids Sharon and David assumed they went on the trip. Twelve days later, David found his parents dead.

“The only silver lining in all of this is they were married for 52 years,” said Sharon. “My father loved my mother and they went together."

Sharon and David grieved for a while… but eventually, their sorrow turned into anger.

While some vehicles have a mechanism that automatically turns the idle vehicle off after some time, many don't.

"There isn't any regulation, so it's really up to them to self-regulate and put whatever features they feel they want to so there isn't anything uniform across trucks, vehicles, SUVs," said Sharon.

In the last few years, there have been several similar instances in the Omaha area.

Sharon has documented them and is getting to work trying to make a change.

"I just don't understand why if they know there's a problem why they wouldn't fix it," said Sharon.

This past Wednesday, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry held a town hall. She spoke up and he listened.

He actually called her the next day saying he would co-sponsor a bill in the House that would force automakers to add the function that would have saved Thomas and Ann's life.

"It doesn't necessarily take legislation--it's just the possibility of a bill targeting the industry to try to make them change and some car-makers already have,” said Congressman Fortenberry.

Sharon and David are pleasantly surprised at the quick response from their representative in Washington.

"It's throwing a Hail Mary at the Super Bowl and it got caught and she's inside the 10-yard line,” said David.

Sharon is also intending to reach out to Nebraska Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse so they can co-sponsor the Senate version of the bill. She’s also considering a lawsuit against Hyundai.

"Sometimes legislation that has deep, deep meaning doesn't necessarily need to have large numbers,” said Congressman Fortenberry. “It just needs to have the right moment. Sharon has helped to create that right moment."