Keyless Ignition Eyed in Death of North Shore Couple

Safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency is considering proposed changes to keyless ignition technology

Inside a Highland Park home Monday morning, a son’s visit to his parents turned tragic. The son, a Highland Park Fire Department lieutenant, found both of his parents dead inside, victims of unintended carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Lake County Coroner.

An investigation will reveal whether the keyless ignition in the couple’s recently purchased 2013 Lincoln MKS played a role.

Police said an immediate investigation revealed extremely high levels of carbon monoxide in the home of Pasquale and Rina Fontanini. They said it appears from the condition of the home that Pasquale Fontanini heard a carbon monoxide detector sounding, and then found the MKS still running in an attached garage. Police said Fontanini opened the garage door, turned off the car, then attempted to go back inside to save his wife. He succumbed to the deadly fumes before he could get to her. He was found on the main floor; his wife was in an upstairs bedroom. Their son performed CPR and another firefighter who responded was later treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. Both husband and wife died from the exposure.

The tragedy here adds to the list of suspected deaths connected by medical examiners and police to the keyless ignition feature. It’s a danger NBC 5 Investigates first broke back in 2011. We revealed the deaths of car owners young and old, with different makes and models. From New York to California and now likely here in Chicago: the list of deaths and injuries continues to grow.

The keyless technology is intended to bring convenience, but now blamed by auto experts for disrupting decades-old behavior: the belief that a key, once removed from a car, shuts off ignition. It’s a tragic misunderstanding of this new technology, which enables a car to keep running even when a "key fob" is removed, and a driver is walking away.

Safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency is considering proposed changed to the technology, in order to prevent the unintended carbon monoxide poisonings, among other reported problems. There's no word on when that might happen.

Meanwhile, the funeral for Pasquale and Rina Fontanini is set for this Saturday, June 20. Comments on their obituary page describe them as a "most wonderful and loving couple."

Contact Us