Tesla driver in fatal crash wasn’t watching video, witness tells investigators

on Jun19

Joshua Brown’s car had Autopilot engaged at the time of the fatal accident on May 7, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters

A witness who was one of the first people to approach the crash site following a fatal Tesla accident in Florida last year told federal investigators he did not see or hear a video playing in the car in the moments after it came to a stop.

A truck driver also involved in the crash previously told The Associated Press that he had seen Harry Potter playing in the car after the accident, but the new witness told investigators he never saw the truck driver at the crash scene in the hour or so he stayed on site to talk to emergency responders.

The accident happened May 7, 2016, and involved 40-year-old Tesla owner Joshua Brown, who was killed when his car crashed into a truck driven by 62-year-old Frank Baressi. Brown’s car had Autopilot engaged at the time of the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report on the crash Monday, including a transcript of an interview with one of the first witnesses on the scene. The witness, Terrence Mulligan, said he did not see any signs of a video playing, despite reports of the truck driver saying he heard a Harry Potter film playing from the vehicle.

“Everyone’s asked me about a video,” Mulligan said. “I can’t tell you there wasn’t one playing, but I did not see one playing and I didn’t hear one playing, and I was at the car twice.”

NTSB documents show that Baressi had trace amounts of marijuana in his system shortly after the crash. He was hauling blueberries in his truck, which was making a left across US-27 in Williston, Fla., when the Tesla rammed into the side of the trailer and went under the truck.

Baressi initially told police he didn’t know what had hit the trailer. The Tesla traveled 910 feet after striking the trailer before it came to a stop. Later, he refused to talk to investigators and referred them to his attorney, the NTSB documents said.

The accident marked the first fatal incident involving semiautonomous driving technology. When the crash was first reported in June, the driver of the truck Brown collided with claimed Brown was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen,” according to the Associated Press. Police reports on the scene do not include details on a video, and Tesla said at the time that it is not possible to watch a video on the vehicle’s touchscreen.

Mulligan said there was a black and yellow toolbox on the back seat of the Tesla, which had had its roof shorn off. He said it was clear upon arriving at the car that Brown had died. Emergency responders offered Mulligan emotional support to help him deal with the gravity of the scene.

In January, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its investigation into the crash, determining that Tesla was not at fault.

The NTSB investigation is still ongoing. In the documents released on Monday, the agency also reported that Brown’s hands had not been detected on the wheel for 37 minutes before the crash. The vehicle had given visual and auditory warnings to the driver to put his hands back on the wheel.

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