Fentanyl suspected as cops at OD crash site hospitalized

Three Chelsea police officers, responding to a simple minivan accident, were hospitalized yesterday after they were exposed to a cigarette box allegedly containing the deadly synthetic opiate fentanyl, in a late afternoon scene that quickly escalated into a hazmat alert.

The overdose-reversing drug Narcan had to be used on the occupants of the vehicle, officials said, after the minivan hit a parked car at 3:25 p.m. on Williams Street. But the feared fentanyl was still out in the open.

A passenger in the back of the minivan was unconscious, and two people in front seats were “turning blue and unresponsive,” according to Chelsea Deputy Fire Chief John Quatieri.

Police and firefighters revived all three victims using CPR and Narcan, Quatieri said. One person in the front seat needed five doses; the other needed even more, while the passenger in the back required only one, Quatieri said.

On further inspection, however, police noticed an “unknown type of powder” in a cigarette box between the van’s seats.

“Luckily, the first lieutenant from our department was first to arrive and immediately realized something wasn’t right,” Quatieri said. “We upgraded to a hazmat incident.

“At this point, we expect it may be fentanyl,” Quatieri added at the scene. “We’re taking every precaution.”

The overdose victims were taken to Cambridge Health Alliance Everett Hospital, which was told of the possible fentanyl threat.

Firefighters roped off the area with police tape, blocking Williams Street entirely and causing heavy traffic jams. Passers-by were also warned of the potential threat while the Boston hazmat team arrived at the scene.

Two firefighters, covered in heavy coats and breathing oxygen through face masks, eventually removed the box and a backpack from the minivan before closing its doors. The box and backpack were sealed in barrels for transport to the state drug lab.

“The hazmat team recovered a package that had the powder in it and took the backpack as a precaution,” Quatieri said. “There was no evidence of powder in the vehicle, in the seats or on the floor.”

The three police officers who were first on scene later reported feeling sick, Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes said. Two officers had finished their shifts and gone home, and both began to feel nauseous, with one feeling tingling in his extremities and shortness of breath, Kyes said.

Both went to the hospital, as did an officer who was still on duty and felt similar symptoms, Kyes said. All were later released.

Quatieri said he was glad responders got out of the minivan as soon as they realized the danger.

“I’m happy they made the right decisions here and backed away as soon as they saw it,” Quatieri said. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”

Police did not name the occupants of the minivan or say if any charges will be filed. The case, they said, remains under investigation.