Pleasanton police may call in outside investigators to probe Saturday’s fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S, an electric car that has come under scrutiny recently for fires and allegations that vehicles accelerate suddenly out of control.
The male driver killed in the Jan. 18 crash on West Las Positas Boulevard and Stonebridge Drive remained unidentified. According to police, the man was driving south on Hacienda Drive when he lost control of the car and slammed into a power pole and cement wall.
The car burst into flames and was still burning when officers arrived. Later, after the fire was extinguished and the car was cleared from the scene, the vehicle’s battery re-ignited and crews were brought in to douse the flames, police said.
At this point, traffic investigators do not know why the crash occurred or whether alcohol or drugs played a role, Pleasanton police Sgt. Benjamin Sarasua said.
Investigators plan to seek help from other police agencies or Tesla itself as they probe the cause of the crash. Sarasua said Pleasanton police may seek investigators with previous experience with Tesla crashes.
“We are still really in the preliminary stages of this,” Sarasua said. “As far as looking into this vehicle specifically and this model, that’s probably going to have to rely on outside agencies…I just want to make sure it is done correctly and as thoroughly as possible.”
Five days before the Pleasanton crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was looking into allegations that 2012-2019 Tesla Model S vehicles, 2016-2019 Tesla Model X cars, and 2018-2019 Tesla Model 3s can suddenly accelerate.
The petitioner, Brian Sparks of Berkeley, cited 127 consumer complaints, including 110 crashes and 52 injuries. An NHTSA document announcing the inquiry said about 500,000 of the Tesla models are believed on the nation’s streets.
“The petition alleges that the subject vehicles contain a defect that can cause sudden unintended acceleration, which may result in crash and injury,” the NHTSA report said.
Sparks wrote to Acting NHTSA administrator James Owens again this month to display his research and concerns. His 70-page letter includes numerous anecdotes of sudden acceleration reports from drivers around the country.
“I am concerned that these complaints reflect a systemic defect that has not been investigated by NHTSA,” Sparks said in the letter, which was made public last week. “I am also concerned that these potential defects represent risk to the safety of Tesla drivers, their passengers and the public.”
Tesla did not respond to an email from The Independent and has not commented to other media reporting Sparks’ allegations.
In many of the complaints included in Sparks’ petition, Tesla owners said the car company blamed the drivers for their crashes. One of the complaints involved the owner of a Tesla Model X from Dublin who crashed in April 2017 while preparing to pull out of a parking space.
The car, the driver said, was stationary. As he stepped on the gas pedal, the car “went into 100 percent acceleration.” The car pulled forward, climbed a curb and crashed into a concrete wall.
“I contacted Tesla and was told I stepped on the gas 100% in under 2 second[s], and they would not claim responsibility,” the driver said. “As I tell them, I am 100% sure I did not step on anything 100% (gas or brake) when I am in a busy parking lot. They still denied and said it was my fault.”
In November, the same investigative agency began looking into media reports and allegations from a law firm that Tesla batteries burst into flames, even when standing still.
According to the Associated Press, the NHTSA also is investigating three crashes involving Teslas that killed three people.