Witnesses to aftermath of deadly Tesla say autopilot continued to drive car for hundreds of yards

First responders heard Harry Potter playing in car

Federal regulators are looking into what exactly happened May 7 when a Tesla S collided with a semi in Williston, Florida.
 
Joshua D. Brown, of Canton, Ohio, was in vehicle at the time using its autopilot feature.
 
"I'm sorry he passed away,” Bobby Vankavelaar said.  
 
Brown’s mangled car with the entire roof ripped off ended up in his front yard, just a few feet from the front door.
 
“It could've been a lot worse that car could've taken him right to my house, my front door is right there. My kids are usually out here playing softball. They won't even come out here no more they are so scared.”
 
Vankavelaar rushed home to see the carnage after getting a frantic call from his wife. He said law enforcement on scene told him Harry Potter was playing in the center console.  
 
He couldn’t believe the car traveled hundreds of yards from the point of impact, through a fence into an open field, through another fence and then avoiding a bank of trees before being unable to swerve and miss a power pole that eventually stopped the car a few feet away.
 
"I couldn't believe how far he actually came, because he was deceased. It was 300 yards from the store down there to my front yard,” Vankavelaar said. "To make it in between the two trees, to get to where he got it’s just scary.”
 
When the Tesla autopilot is activated, it reminds drivers to "always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.”
 
Vankavelaar said smart car or not, he will never take his hands off the wheel or even think about purchasing a car that drives itself.
 
"There's no way I would ever trust a vehicle to drive my family,” Vankavelaar said.  
 
Vankavelaar said a witness stopped at the scene of the deadly crash and told investigators the same Tesla sped past her a few miles down the road.
 
“She said she was passed and she was doing 85 and when this car passed her” Vankavelaar said.  "She was just like, ‘Wow!  I wonder how fast that car was going?’"
 
That is information the Florida Highway Patrol has not released.  
 
Frank Baressi, 62, the driver of the truck and owner of Okemah Express LLC, said the Tesla driver was driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him,” Baressi told The Associated Press in an interview from his home in Palm Harbor.
 
Tesla Motors Inc. said it is not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen. There was no reference to the movie in initial police reports.
 
Brown's published obituary described him as a member of the Navy SEALs for 11 years and founder of Nexu Innovations Inc., working on wireless Internet networks and camera systems. 
 
In Washington, the Pentagon confirmed Brown's work with the SEALs and said he left the service in 2008.
 
Every time Vankavelaar mows his grass he finds new debris from the crash.  A few weeks ago he found the cars right headlight.  
 
Each time he sees a piece of shattered glass, or twisted plastic, he wonders why the car kept driving with a dead man at the wheel.
 
ABC Action News asked Tesla if there is an emergency shutoff for the autopilot system during a crash.  We have not gotten a response back.
 
This is the first known fatality in more than 130 million miles driven with autopilot activated, according to Tesla.
Print this article Back to Top