A correction to a story we aired Tuesday night. In our story about two Waukesha County Sheriff’s deputies exposed to a hazardous substance during a traffic stop – we reported they were exposed to fentanyl. Tests in the field were positive and the two men were initially charged with a fentanyl drug related offense. Those charges were dropped after state crime lab analysis showed no presence of fentanyl. Based on the lab report, the two men now face new charges, for cocaine and methamphetamine.
A local deputy lying on the ground on the side of I-94, unresponsive. Not from a bullet or a knife but from a plume of white powder.
That deputy talked for the first time to the I-Team about what's becoming one of the biggest risks for many first responders.
We're talking about fentanyl. Even the DEA is calling this drug a significant risk for people who already face so many dangerous situations every day on the job.
This story starts with Deputy Sarah Kralovetz's last memory from that night.
"That's how I was going to die was right there on the side of I-94. Not from a gun, not from a knife but from some weird little powder," she said.
It was a routine traffic stop that turned into a lesson in fentanyl for this Waukesha County Sheriff's Deputy and her partner. It was the end of February around 9 p.m. when Deputy Sarah Kralovetz pulled over a driver for weaving.
"He was very jittery he wouldn't look at me," Kralovetz said.
She and her partner, Deputy Sam Weinkauf, ended up searching the car. The driver reportedly told them marijuana was in the vehicle and a gun, which ended up being loaded. They also found drug paraphernalia.
"That already makes us think potentially cocaine, heroin," Weinkauf said.
Fentanyl never crossed their mind, but a lockbox they found in the car would drastically change the course of the traffic stop.
"I can kind of tell there's something inside," Kralovetz said.
They couldn't get it open so Kralovetz tried to figure out what was in it.
"What sound does it make when I tip it. This plume of white smoke just comes out of it," she said.
And then Kralovetz said she started feeling a tickle in her throat. Less than a minute later she was completely out of it.
She said she was thinking, "what was wrong with me why can't I function?" The last thing Kralovetz remembers were the lights on her squad.
"Laying there watching them get slower, and slower, and slower," she said.
Deputy Weinkauf told us, "she wasn't able to talk to us anymore. She wasn't responding to what we were saying."
That's when a state trooper at the scene grabbed his Narcan. Kralovetz came to in the ambulance. She later discovered she was exposed to fentanyl.
That led to some quick changes in the department. All Waukesha County Sheriff's deputies now carry fentanyl resistant gloves and masks to better protect them in a search.
"You could just move something and potentially inhale it," Deputy Ben Kujawa told us on a ride along.
He said fentanyl has also changed the way he does his job.
"Now it's become more, when we search vehicles, more slow. Taking your time making sure that you're not rushing through it," he said.
It only takes 2 to 3 milligrams of fentanyl to cause a severe reaction or even death. That's the same amount as 7 grains of table salt.
In the last year, the sheriff's department also looked at how it handles evidence and added a vent system to reduce the fentanyl exposure risk.
"You never really know what you're dealing with," Detective Christina Rarick said.
To be safe, everyone processing evidence takes it a step further and also wears goggles and a mask. Rarick told us there's always the potential what they're testing could be fentanyl.
"You always assume there's something contagious or something that can harm you," Rarick said.
That night in February will always be on the minds of two deputies.
"That's a scary thing to have to see your partner go through," Weinkauf said.
But they both feel some good came out of that traffic stop. Not only getting the drugs off the street but identifying the fentanyl risk, that is now all too real.
Deputy Kralovetz told us more law enforcement departments are now looking into carrying Narcan because of what happened to her. She said if she had to wait for the ambulance to get the Narcan, she would not have made it.
And the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department is also looking at a way for deputies to give themselves a Narcan dose.
Right now deputies carry tubes of Narcan in their squad. They have to measure out the dosage, which is given as a nasal spray.
It would be hard to put all that together if you've been exposed. So the department is looking at a single dose option for deputies to use on themselves if they need it.