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New details on fatal Tesla crash in Texas revealed in Fire Marshal report

Credit: Reuters/Twitter

A report from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office has provided several new details about the high-profile, fatal Tesla Model S crash that happened earlier this month in Texas. The incident, which triggered a wave of inaccurate reports suggesting that the ill-fated vehicle was “driverless,” has rekindled conversations about Tesla’s response to misinformation and the dangers of irresponsible driving. 

Immediately after the crash, Harris County Pct. 4 Constable Mark Herman remarked that reconstructionists who responded to the accident were “100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact.” This triggered reports alleging that Autopilot was somehow involved. Herman also remarked that the blaze that resulted from the crash took about four hours to be extinguished, and that firefighters had to call for Tesla for tips on how to address the ill-fated Model S’ battery fire. 

These statements were promptly corrected by CEO Elon Musk, who noted that data logs indicate that Autopilot was not enabled during the incident. Fire Chief of The Woodlands Township Fire Department Palmer Buck also corrected reports about the Model S’ battery fire, noting that the blaze was controlled within two to three minutes. After this, it was no longer an active fire, as the fire department was just focused on keeping the battery as cool as possible. Buck also noted that fire personnel did not call Tesla for help on how to handle the vehicle fire.  

According to the recent report from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, the vehicle had sustained a “significant front-end collision” that may have damaged its battery, power distribution system, or battery-temperature control systems. While investigator Chris Johnson noted that he was unable to determine the first heat source of the blaze, he concluded that the fire was caused by the Model S’ collision with the tree. The report also noted that the fire was well underway by the time authorities were on the scene, destroying most parts of the vehicle. 

The report provided some details about the ill-fated Model S’ two passengers, both of whom perished in the incident. According to the report, the vehicle’s interior had extensive fire damage when some authorities arrived, and most of the combustible materials in the space had already been destroyed. The crash’s victims, William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot, 69, were on seats whose frames were already visible due to extensive fire damage. 

“Decedent 1 was located in a seated position, a few inches forward of the front right (passenger) seat. Decedent 1’s upper torso was in a forward-leaning position, with both arms forward… Decedent 2 was located in a seated position within the rear left (passenger) seat. Decedent 2’s upper torso was in a rear-leaning position, with both arms rolled back in a pugilistic pose,” the report read. 

As noted by Tesla in its Q1 earnings call, the company is currently working directly with local authorities, the NTSB, and the NHTSA, to investigate the incident. Tesla Vice President of Vehicle Engineering Lars Moravy added that so far, an inspection of the ill-fated vehicle revealed that the steering wheel was deformed. This, together with the fact that Autopilot was not activated and that all seatbelts post-crash were unbuckled, hints at the likelihood that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash. 

The report from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office could be accessed below. 

Tesla TX Crash Fire Marshal Incident Report by Simon Alvarez on Scribd

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New details on fatal Tesla crash in Texas revealed in Fire Marshal report
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