By Robin Rieger
CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) - Camden police are mourning the loss of their 18-month-old K-9 Serge who died of heat exhaustion in the back of his handler's patrol car last Thursday.
Serge and his handler, Officer Gabriel Rodriguez, were a great pair according to Atlantic County Training Academy instructor Joe Rodriguez, who trained the pair last spring.
"Just a hard working dog, took care of business out in the field when it came to catching bad guys. But other than that he was lovable. At the end they were one of the top teams that graduated here," said instructor Rodriguez, no relation to officer Rodriguez.
Police are now trying to determine what happened inside Rodriguez's police cruiser, a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria. For two hours, he left it parked and running with the air conditioning initially on, says Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson, while he was inside the police station.
"Canine officer Gabe Rodriguez returned to his vehicle. There was a pool of fluids under the car. He checked inside the vehicle and the dog was non-responsive," said Thomson.
Thomson says the special system designed to protect the dog if the air went off apparently did not activate.
"If the temperature within the car hits 85 degrees, the windows automatically roll down, an exhaust fan kicks on to circulate throughout the vehicle. And an audible alarm will be going off on the car as well as sending an alert to the canine handlers pager that they carry," said Thomson.
"At no point do we believe the officer was negligent in any way," said Camden Fraternal Order of Police President John Williamson. Williamson questioned whether police vehicles are maintained and checked properly.
We asked Chief Thomson.
"Vehicles are inspected stem to stem every time the vehicle goes on duty."
The officer would have inspected his entire vehicle and would have engaged his systems as well," said Thomson.
When the officer's shift started everything seemed to be in working order, according to Thomson.
He says Rodriguez is on leave.
"There's no one more devastated than officer Rodriguez and his family," said Thomson.
In addition to the police investigation, an independent mechanic will assess the vehicle and its systems.
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