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Mitch McConnell’s sister-in-law drowned after accidentally reversing Tesla into ranch pond

Angela Chao reportedly phoned her friends for help before her car was submerged in pond on Texas ranch

Amelia Neath
Monday 11 March 2024 18:59 GMT
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The late sister-in-law of Mitch McConnell drowned after accidentally reversing her Tesla Model X into a pond at her Texas ranch,

Angela Chao, 50, reportedly called a friend in a panic before her car was “completely submerged” in the pond on the sprawling ranch outside of Austin.

The death of Chao, the chair and chief executive of the Chao family business, the Foremost Group shipping company, was reported last month, but details about the fatal accident were slow to emerge.

Chao’s may have been caused by her putting the electric vehicle into reverse causing it to slam into the pond and sink, with first responders unable to get it out in time to save her life, reported The Wall Street Journal.

The outlet spoke to friends of Chao, her family and county officials who were at the scene or briefed on the incident, as well as reviewing law enforcement documents to establish the course of events that led to her death.

Chao had invited friends from Harvard Business School to the 900-acre ranch outside of Austin, Texas to spend a weekend with her, stated the report.

At around 11.30pm on 10 February, after spending time with her friends in the guest house, she went to head back to the ranch’s main house in a Tesla Model X SUV.

Minutes later Chao called one of her friends “in a panic”, the outlet reported. During a three-point turn, she put her car into reverse instead of into drive. As the vehicle went backwards, it tipped over an embankment and into a pond.

After the alarm was raised, Chao’s friends, the ranch manager, first responders, and sheriff’s deputies tried to break the vehicle’s windows or find an escape hatch. One of her friends even jumped into the pond, the outlet reported.

An emergency unit for Blanco County arrived around 24 minutes after getting a call, the fire department incident report said, per the Wall Street Journal.

Some first responders had got out of their vehicles and walked to the scene due to “the terrain and accessibility.”

Angela Chao and her husband Jim Breyer, an American venture capitalist (Getty Images for Breakthrough PR)

In the attempts to rescue Chao from her vehicle in the pond, one responder recalled the Tesla as being completely submerged, with deputies standing on it as they tried to save the businesswoman.

As a dive team was not available, an emergency service worker and a firefighter entered the water with rescue tools. A tow truck turned up, but with a cable too short to retrieve the vehicle; eventually, responders found a longer cable.

The outlet said that once the car was out of the water and the doors were opened, hundreds of gallons of water rushed out.

Chao was unresponsive when the car resurfaced, and attempts were made to resuscitate her, but this was unsuccessful. She was deceased at the scene.

A person familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal that no one in the family blames Tesla.

The Blanco Sheriff’s Office told NBC in a statement on 16 February that emergency measures were taken, but Chao “succumbed from being under the water.”

“Our preliminary investigation has determined this to be an unfortunate accident. The investigation is ongoing at this time,” the statement said.

However, the sheriff’s office then reportedly wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on 29 February, according to NBC, that it was “not a typical accident” and that the office is investigating it as a “criminal matter until they have sufficient evidence to rule out criminal activity.”

Chao was the sister of Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of transportation under Donald Trump and is also married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Weeks after Chao’s death, Mr McConnell announced on the Senate floor that he would step down from his leadership position, bringing an end to his position as the US Senate’s longest-serving party leader.

His senate term expires in 2027, and he plans to remain in Congress until then.

“As some of you may know, this has been a particularly difficult time for my family," Mr McConnell said in his announcement on 28 February, speaking of his sister-in-law.

"When you lose a loved one, particularly at a young age, there is a certain introspection that accompanies the grieving process. Perhaps it is God’s way of reminding you of your own life’s journey to reprioritise the impact on the world that we will all inevitably leave behind," he added.

The Independent has contacted Tesla, Blanco County Emergency Services, Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office for comment.

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