Two killed in fiery Tesla crash with no one at the wheel

Tesla car crash: Victims named after two die when vehicle hits tree in Texas

Incident suspected to have involved autopilot feature

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 21 April 2021 20:26
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The victims killed in last week’s Tesla car crash in Texas, which police suspect to have involved the vehicle’s autopilot mode, have been named as William Varner, a 58-year-old anaesthesiologist, his employer said, and Everett Talbot, 69.

In the incident on Saturday, two men were killed after their 2019 Tesla Model S, travelling at a high speed, failed to negotiate a curve and crashed into a tree, catching fire, police reports noted.

Mr Varner was a doctor, who worked at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. In a statement shred with ABC13, the medical centre said: “Dr. Varner was a tremendous human being who personally impacted many throughout our Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center family over the years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family, and also to those who had the privilege of working and serving alongside him in various capacities. He will be dearly missed by so many.”

According to the police, one of the victims, thought to be Mr Talbot, was found in the passenger seat and the other, Mr Varner, in the back seat, while nobody was at the driving seat at the time of impact, raising doubts on the involvement of the car’s autopilot mode.

However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday saying that data logs retrieved from the crashed car by the company ruled out the use of the autopilot system.

“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled ... Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” he tweeted.

Police said on Monday that they would serve search warrants on the company to ascertain if the vehicle’s autopilot mode was engaged at the time of the incident.

Citing witness reports, Mark Herman, a police constable from Harris County Precinct 4 in Texas, said the accident happened shortly after the victims left a house to test the car’s automated driving capability.

Dr Varner, a graduate from the University of Texas Medical Branch At Galveston in 1988, is listed as a medical director at the Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, in Houston, Texas.

“We were saddened to hear of the death of one of our physicians over the weekend. Dr Varner spent his life caring for others, and now we are focused on caring for his colleagues and family, helping them to cope with this sudden and unexpected loss,” Reuters quoted the US Anesthesia Partners as saying in a statement.

The other victim was not identified as of Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates accidents and makes recommendations to improve transport safety, said its probe into the crash would look into the vehicle’s operation and the post-crash fire.

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