Last Monday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board began sending teams to investigate a fiery Tesla Model S crash that occurred April 17 in Woodlands Township near Houston, Texas, that left two dead.
The two men killed in the crash were identified by local authorities as Everett Talbot, 69, an engineer, and his friend Dr. William Varner, 69. According to a Reuters report on April 19, the vehicle “was traveling at high speed near Houston when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the road, crashing into a tree and bursting into flames” in the Carlton Woods Creekside subdivision last Saturday night.
The Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office reported that subsequent small fires continued to flare up for hours and required rescue workers to use about 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish, due to the fact that the car’s battery continued to reignite after the crash, ABC13 Eyewitness News reported.
Authorities insist that no one was present in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash. One man was found in the passenger’s seat and another in the back seat of the vehicle when fire and emergency response teams arrived at the scene of the accident.
The cause of the initial fire, which almost completely torched the vehicle and its victims in a matter of moments, is still under investigation. However, there is some reason to believe that the car battery itself may have been defective. The corporation is still under investigation by the NHTSA for its decision to issue a software update for 2,000 vehicles rather than to recall them after reports that the vehicles had a possible battery defect that could start fires.
Tesla drivers have also made numerous complaints to the NHTSA to allege that sudden acceleration of the vehicles occurred in a number of situations which could potentially cause serious harm to drivers, passengers and property, such as sitting in traffic and while attempting to park in a garage or at a curb.
Woodlands Township Fire Chief Palmer Buck told Car and Driver that “this was our first experience with a large-scale runaway lithium-ion fire” and that had the crash occurred on a highway rather than a residential area with access to a fire hydrant, the situation could have been far worse as the fire department’s trucks, “which carry between 500 and 1000 gallons, would not have been able to keep on lightly soaking the car for that much time.”
The NHTSA and NTB are currently investigating whether the Tesla Model S’s autopilot system, a partially automated system on Tesla vehicles that can keep a car centered in its lane, keep a distance from cars in front of it and change lanes automatically, was engaged at the time of the crash. “We have witness statements from people that said [the victims] left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself,” Herman told Reuters.