Tesla crash victim is named as a 59-year-old doctor who was driving with a friend

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One of the victims of a fiery Tesla crash in Spring, Texas on Saturday night has been named as a 59-year-old doctor.

Dr. Will T. Varner died Saturday after his model S crashed into trees just a few hundred yards from his $ 2 million home in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside.

Dr. Varner was an anesthetist who worked at Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center.

Shortly after leaving his driveway on Saturday, the car swerved off the quiet cul-de-sac and plowed into the trees, then caught fire.

It took firefighters four hours to put out the fire as the electric vehicle’s battery ignited over and over again.

When they finally put out the flames, they found Varner in the back seat and another man, a 69-year-old who has yet to be identified, in the passenger seat.

Now there are serious questions about how the car could drive, let alone at speed when no one was in the driver’s seat.

There was speculation that the couple had activated the autopilot function on the car, leading it to believe someone was behind the wheel – which is a safety requirement to engage the autopilot system. In autopilot mode, if a Tesla doesn’t detect hands on the wheel, it will eventually stop, but it can take at least 30 seconds, according to videos posted by car enthusiasts.

Tesla shares fell 3.4 percent after the crash on Monday.

This was what was left of the Tesla Model S after Saturday's fiery crash in Spring, Texas

This was what was left of the Tesla Model S after Saturday’s fiery crash in Spring, Texas

The men drove from Varner's house, at the end of the cul-de-sac, and reached it only a few hundred feet before crashing

The men drove from Varner’s house, at the end of the cul-de-sac, and reached it only a few hundred feet before crashing

Musk said on Twitter Monday night that data logs showed Autopilot was not enabled on the car

Musk said on Twitter Monday night that data logs showed Autopilot was not enabled on the car

On Monday evening, Tesla founder Elon Musk broke the company’s silence on the crash by claiming on Twitter that their data showed Varner had not engaged autopilot.

Datalogs recovered so far show that Autopilot was not engaged and this car did not purchase an FSD. Plus, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street didn’t have, ” Musk tweeted.

If [Musk] tweet that out, if he already got the data, he didn’t tell us. We will eagerly await that data,

Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4

It was the first the police investigating the crash had heard of it.

‘If he tweets that, if he has already retrieved the data, he has not told us.

“We will eagerly await that data,” said Mark Herman, Harris County Constable Precinct 4.

He says witnesses told him the couple were driving on autopilot.

“We have testimonials from people who said they left to test the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how to drive it himself,” he said.

The street in question had no road markings and it was dark when the men took the car “for a ride,” as one of their brothers-in-law described it.

Tesla shares fell 3.4 percent after the crash on Monday

Tesla shares fell 3.4 percent after the crash on Monday

It’s not clear how Musk’s claims compare to those made by the local police, which investigators said were “99.9 percent certain” that no one was behind the wheel of the car. Three other people have died in Tesla autopilot incidents.

The two men drove Sunday past Hammock Dunes Place in Spring, Texas, a street that is only 300 feet long in a gated community where the average street home price is over $ 2 million.

Tesla enthusiasts are baffled by the crash, because in order for autopilot to engage, the $ 80,000 car must be able to identify clear road markings (which this street doesn’t have). The men also drove at night, at 11:25 pm.

After plowing into a tree just a few hundred yards from the house they left, the vehicle caught fire and firefighters battled the blaze for four hours as the victims’ relatives watched in horror.

They had to call the car manufacturer and ask how to prevent the battery from re-igniting. In the end they used 32,000 liters of water, but the two men were burned.

The car didn't turn around the bend and instead plowed straight into trees and caught fire

The car didn’t turn around the bend and instead plowed straight into trees and caught fire

Police say the battery in the vehicle continued to catch fire, making it impossible for them to put it out for hours

Police say the battery in the vehicle continued to catch fire, making it impossible for them to put it out for hours

Now there are serious questions about how the men got as far as they did when no one was in the driver’s seat.

Tesla insists that in order to engage autopilot, a person must have their hands on the wheel at all times, ready to take over should the automated systems fail.

If no weight is detected on the steering wheel, the car will send the driver a warning to remind him of the rule, but that doesn’t necessarily stop – at least not right away.

In some videos posted by car enthusiasts, it takes two minutes for it to even notice that no one has their hands on the wheel.

In a from 2019 it took two minutes before no one was behind the wheel. The car then sends the driver an on-screen prompt, then starts beeping loudly before finally slowing down.

In the 2019 video, it took 40 seconds from the first prompt for the car to come to a complete stop.

It’s unclear how fast the men drove in the crash, but detectives say it was a significant speed.

Tesla will stop driving on autopilot if it cannot detect a person's hands on the wheel.  To get around it, people have done this - put an item on the handlebars or put it there - to trick it

Tesla will stop driving on autopilot if it cannot detect a person’s hands on the wheel. To get around it, people have done this – put an item on the handlebars or put it there – to trick it

Others have balanced water bottles on the steering wheel or attached them in cup holders to trick the car

Another driver used a weighted bracelet to trick the vehicle

Others have balanced water bottles on the steering wheel or attached them in cup holders to fool the car (left) or have weighted bracelets attached to them (right)

Other drivers kept water bottles on the steering wheel to make the car think they were still on it when they weren't

Other drivers kept water bottles on the steering wheel to make the car think they were still on it when they weren't

Other drivers kept water bottles on the steering wheel to trick the car into thinking they were still on it

This will be told to the driver via the screen in the car if no hands are detected on the wheel after about 30 seconds.  The car makes a loud beeping sound, starts to slow down and comes to a stop, but it may take half a minute to do so

This will be told to the driver via the screen in the car if no hands are detected on the wheel after about 30 seconds. The car makes a loud beeping sound, starts to slow down and comes to a stop, but it may take half a minute to do so

Elon Musk said Saturday, hours before the crash, that Teslas were getting safer

Elon Musk said Saturday, hours before the crash, that Teslas were getting safer

Both the NTSB (National Transport Safety Board) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) are investigating the crash.

The NHTSA said in a statement: ‘We are actively involved with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate action when we have more information.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Twitter that it had sent two investigators to the scene, who “ will focus on the operation of the vehicle and the post-crash fire.

“NTSB detectives are arriving in the area later this afternoon.”

Tesla has not commented.

The website is vague about what exactly happens when no one is behind the wheel when autopilot is engaged.

Before engaging Autopilot, the driver must agree to “keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times” and always “to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle”.

Each time the driver engages Autopilot, they are then presented with a visual reminder to ‘keep your hands on the wheel,’ it says.

Saturday’s crash happened hours after Elon Musk tweeted that the autopilot feature became “ ten times safer. ”

For years, car enthusiasts have been sharing videos on YouTube about how to trick the steering systems with oranges, weighted bracelets or simply by pushing the steering wheel.

Some have clamped water bottles in the handlebars to trick it as well. After the crash, Tesla’s stock fell 3.32 percent on Monday.

Hours before Saturday’s crash, Musk tweeted, “Tesla with Autopilot enabled is now approaching 10 times less likely to have an accident than an average vehicle.”