Texas fire marshal report confirms some details of fatal Tesla crash but leaves Autopilot questions unanswered

The wreckage of the Tesla Model S that crashed in Texas, April 17 2021. Reuters

  • The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office released details about the Tesla crash that occurred on April 17.
  • The report offers new details about the fatal wreck, which police said happened with nobody driving.
  • Authorities haven’t said if Autopilot played a role in the crash, but Tesla denies it was in operation.

Local officials have revealed new details about a violent Tesla crash that killed two people in Spring, Texas, on April 17.



An incident report from the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office confirms that neither of the two occupants were in the driver’s seat when authorities arrived on the scene. Still, questions remain about whether or not Autopilot — Tesla’s suite of advanced driver-assistance features — was enabled at the time of the crash.

According to the report, which was first reported by Bloomberg, the gray 2019 Model S “sustained a significant front-end collision” that damaged its battery, power distribution systems, or heat-management systems, causing the car to catch fire. Investigators found the vehicle in direct contact with the trunk of a large tree and with its hood, front doors, front body panels, A-pillars, and roof “completely destroyed.”

Investigators did not determine the initial ignition source but were able to conclude that the vehicle was not set ablaze intentionally. The car’s interior had extensive damage to most combustible materials and was littered with melted debris, they said.

Fifty-nine-year-old William Varner and 69-year-old Everette Talbot were found dead inside the scorched car. Varner was found sitting in the left rear passenger’s seat leaning backward “with both arms rolled back in a pugilistic pose.” Talbot was found sitting in the front passenger’s seat leaning forward with his chin pressed against the dashboard.

The report is consistent with what Constable Mark Herman initially described to local media following the crash. He told KHOU that nobody was found in the driver’s seat and that investigators were confident that nobody was driving the car at the time of impact.



Tesla has disputed Herman’s account of events.

Elon Musk tweeted that the car had not engaged Autopilot, and Tesla vice president Lars Moravy said on a Monday conference call that the company believes someone was driving the car due to the seatbelts being unfastened and deformation in the steering wheel. The fire marshal’s report did not make any mention of what caused the crash.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment about the report.

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have announced probes into the incident that are ongoing.

 News source