NTSB Confirms Fatal Texas Crash Indeed Had Someone Driving When It Happened

NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) released an update on its investigation of the fatal crash in The Woodlands, Texas, on April 16, 2021. After first responders said there was no one in the driver seat, the safety board concluded William Varner was there at the moment of the impact. The steering wheel deformation confirms that.
NTSB Says Fatal Texas Crash With a Model S Had Someone at the Steering Wheel 6 photos
Photo: NTSB
Picture of the Street in Which the Fatal Crash With the 2019 Tesla Model S P100D HappenedMap of Where the Fatal Crash With the 2019 Tesla Model S P100D HappenedFirst Responders at the Crash Site of the Tesla Fatal Crash in TexasFirst Responders at the Crash Site of the Tesla Fatal Crash in TexasImages of the Steering Wheel and the 2019 Tesla Model S P100D
According to NTSB, the damages to the top and left side of the outer rim were caused by something impacting against it. In this case, Varner, the owner of the 2019 Tesla Model S P100D. Everett Talbot was in the passenger seat right beside Varner when everything happened.

NTSB describes the incident started at 9:07 pm on April 16. Former reports said it had occurred at 11:25 pm, but that’s not correct. We know that Varner and Talbot had just had dinner with their wives and were talking about the Tesla. After leaving the women at Varner’s house, they went for a quick spin.

What followed next was that the driver pushed the pedal to 98.8% of its course, which you would just call “pedal to the metal.” The car reached 67 mph in a matter of 5 seconds, lost control, left the road on a curve, and drove over the curb. In the 550-feet (167.6 meters) trip until hitting a tree, it hit a drainage culvert and a raised manhole. NTSB discovered all that thanks to the Model S EDR (Event Data Recorder).

NTSB states that “as a result of the crash and fire, both car occupants were fatally injured.” According to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office’s report, Varner’s body was found in the rear seat “in a rear-leaning position, with both arms rolled back and in a pugilistic pose.” That led to rumors that Autopilot might have been involved.

The national board absolved the ADAS of guilt in this case. According to its team’s analysis, Autopilot could only be engaged if the TACC (Traffic-Aware Cruise Control) and Autosteer functions were turned on. In that part of the road, it was not possible to engage Autosteer. The autopsy revealed both men had alcohol levels above the legal limits.

The investigation will now probably focus on why Varner was in the back. If he did not have his seat belt, he would be thrown against the windshield, not the rear seat. The most probable reason for him to be there is that Varner may have tried to escape the car after trying to open his door.

In a recent Tesla crash in Miami that killed two people, the fire seems to have spread so fast that there was no time to rescue the people inside it. NTSB is also investigating it.

The safety board said that the Texas crash assessment is still ongoing. According to NTSB, “information in this update is preliminary and will be supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.”
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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