Stolen Tesla crashed, ripped in half, first major injury and potential fatality in a Tesla

Stolen Tesla crashed, ripped in half, first major injury and potential fatality in a Tesla

GeekEV | 05/07/2014

@omarsultan - Good point. It does indeed look like the passenger compartment is mostly intact.

@Mark Z - The existing system isn't a PIN, it's a full on password. Not that it changes your point much, but I just wanted to point that out.

carlk | 05/07/2014

The latest report from USA Today says there is no death in this incident.

The story, with title "Split in half: Two Tesla crashes bolster safety claims", is also very favorable to Tesla's safety claims.

CalDreamin | 05/07/2014

Henry, the Model S was designed to protect all occupants in the car. Please watch the NHTSA side impact crash test video, which shows the impact from many angles, including how well the back seat occupants are protected

Model S has the highest safety rating that NHTSA awards, including in side impact.

It's not realistic to design a car to crash sideways at 100 mph into light poles. Your children will not be endangered by that if you don't drive that fast down city streets.

AndyO | 05/07/2014

Two comments:

1 - I would really like to know whether the theft was accomplished by a simple stealing of the actual fob or by hacking the car. I don't think we'll hear that formally from Tesla. Follow up suggestions about what should be done are premature if we don't know this. The initial comments about the report of someone tampering with a car are still to vague.

2 - In looking at the various different videos of the wreck, the Tesla slowly caught fire vs. bursting into flame like an ICE can do. This is a MAJOR point of difference with ICEs. In one observer clip, there was a path of small fires that seemed to be piles of individual cells left as the rear of the battery pack fell apart. That's very different from a huge ball of flame engulfing everything withing a 30' radius.

Tâm | 05/07/2014


You need to realize that Tesla is a very safe car.

As Calk pointed out with the link above, even the press acknowledge that very point despite of 2 Tesla crashes in 1 single day!

The warranty does not cover your use:

"in competition, racing or autocross or for any other purposes for which the vehicle is not designed;"

Look at the car!

It is not a racing car, no matter what people tell you otherwise.

It carries 5 grown adults in the main cabin and two kids in the rear.

Would you drive your whole family of 7 at 100 MPH in CITY in a police pursuit?

City streets are not meant for racing any how. That's why there are light poles and trees to make sure you can slow down and don't hit them.

It is safer than the rest of the cars so far, but that does not mean that it can prevent people from killing themselves due to their driving styles.

akikiki | 05/07/2014

If the thief was dumb enough to keep driving at 100+ mph and hit other cars, a pole and a building after the police had given up pursuit, then he wasn't smart enough to hack the car to get it to move - without the fob.

rdalcanto | 05/07/2014

+1 akikiki. My money is on stolen key fob.

akikiki | 05/07/2014

+1 rdalcanto. I agree with you. Most of the time the simplest solution is the correct solution.

JPPTM | 05/07/2014

BTW some folks who have analyzed photos & video say that the S had regular CA plates, not MFG plates. Thus not a brand new vehicle or test drive/loaner, but a customer car. Likely stolen from the Service and NOT Sales Center. Not sure what the 'industry standard' is for where and how keys & fobs are stored, but I would venture to guess the fobs are not locked up and are somewhere handy. New vehicle dealers with inventory do have systems to secure the keys and hand a 'check out' system when sales staff grab the keys/fob to demo/test drive a vehicle.

Can someone do some homework and verify facts??

AndyO | 05/07/2014

@JPPTM: My question exactly. If the fob was stolen, I firmly believe Tesla will take corrective action to prevent future occurrences. I inherently believe in Tesla to do what's right. OMG, that really sounds like drinking the Kool-Aid.

Red Sage ca us | 05/07/2014

How Did This Happen...?

HenryT2 wrote, "I'm curious as to how the car was 'ripped in half'. Now, I understand 100mph is fast enough to rip most cars into half, but with the Model S battery compartment, I would think the front and back of the car would sheer off before the middle would 'rip'."

I am not a forensic scientist or accident examiner, but I think I can provide a [WHISKEY ALPHA GOLF] as to what transpired.

I get the impression that due to his sheer speed, the thief made a slip-up while driving. He made a lane change in slower traffic, bounced off one car, sideswiped another, over-corrected, likely not used to a powerful rear-wheel drive car. By this time, not realizing the cops aren't chasing him anymore, he just kept his foot on the accelerator, because he didn't want to be caught.

Maybe he didn't know that would result in immediate acceleration, no matter the orientation of the car. So he struck or sideswiped more cars, drove threw a couple of lamp posts, caught air while driving over something, went into a flat spin, then hit the last lamp post sideways... at about 140 MPH.

With all the stress of taking all the prior strikes, the car's chassis gave up, gave in, and gave way. Due to the excessive speed, the car was divided by that last pole. The rear end lodged itself in the entranceway of a Synagogue. The front end continued along bouncing over other cars before smashing the roof of a Honda Civic and sliding off to the street, where it eventually came to rest upon smashing into yet more cars.

Some time during all this, the thief was ejected. Through the windshield or out the rear of the car, it doesn't matter. I'm pretty sure it happened either as, or immediately after the car struck the last lamp post. He might not have even been in the car any longer by the time the Civic was crushed.

Meanwhile, when the car was sheered in two, the contents of the battery pack were expelled all over the street. Due to their extreme heat from being run at speed for miles, the friction caused from hitting the ground, and the immediate exposure to oxygen without coolant, they burst into flames.

Personally, I think it's rather awesome that you basically have to go well out of your way to be a complete idiot in search of a Darwin Prize to kill yourself in a Tesla Model S. The fact that after the fire was put out, the display on the dashboard was still ON is amazing, even if it is powered from the 12v battery up front. There's even the possibility that if this had been an AWD version, and power had not been cut to the front wheels, the car would have kept going had the thief still been inside, foot on the accelerator.

NomoDinos | 05/07/2014

Stupid Tesla... it robbed this poor man of his Darwin Award, despite all the hard work he put into winning.

AndyO | 05/07/2014

@NoMoDinos: While I try to be empathetic, I give you many ++'s.

Theresa | 05/07/2014

If the car was at SC it may be possible the keys were too close to the car and therefore the car may have been able to be started. Once started the car no longer needs the fob to continue.

rdalcanto | 05/07/2014

@ Theresa -
Unlikely. My FOB is on a desk just inside my garage door. Less than 10 feet from the car. I can't unlock the car with the FOB in that location.

JPPTM | 05/07/2014

I sort of recall reading the opening paragraph of the owner's manual of a prior Mercedes I owned (20 years ago). In relation to the careful engineering and design, the paragraph had a sentence that noted something like:

Even the best engineered and built automobile cannot violate the laws of physics.

And remember that 1 of the laws of physics is:

e=1/2 M* V squared

Small changes in V get magnified.

adluna68 | 05/07/2014

the loner i got had Ca tags.

Red Sage that is my guess all thow it could by the adrenaline rush of driving a model s 100+ down hollywood more than the cop case but we may never know.

i like just walking up and getting in and diving off. that is just cool but a Valet wood be good

HenryT2 | 06/07/2014

Yes, I agree it does look like the car split at the C pillar, but I don't see the passenger seats, motor, or rear wheels. Seems like they went with the tail of the car - which I why I'm curious as to whether as much emphasis was designed to keep them together with the passenger compartment. The Model S is rather unusual in that the motor is probably inside the passenger compartment.
Oh, I understand that 100mph is far greater than the standard tolerance for cars. But then, I've been spoiled to believe my Model S is the safest car on the road. Seems that, for the driver, the Model S may still protect him from his own stupidity. I'm just curious as to whether that extreme protection extends to the rear seat by design, or whether the rear is designed with less tolerance (which it may have to be due to the position of the motor).

Oh, I'm VERY aware of Tesla's safety factor. It's why I have a Model X on order despite the fact that I really can't afford to have 2 Teslas. I'm just worried that, because of the motor position, the back seat is compromised somewhat (not any more than a regular passenger car - but not to the extreme standards of Tesla).

Basically, I believe, for the driver and 2nd occupant, the Tesla is by far the safest passenger car ever produced. It probably goes much further than that to reducing the chance of injury to a tiny fraction of other cars. HOWEVER, I was under the impression that this EXTREME safeness extended to the rear seat. However, it seems like the rear seat, motor, and rear wheels are attached to one another as I couldn't see them in the wreckage and they might be part of the intact rear part of the car. If this is the case, they might (in extreme situations like this) always break off together losing the protection of the passenger cabin of the car.

I suspect that the rear seat would still get a "5 star" rating, but would it be "off the charts" as the driver's seat would be?

I'm buying a Model X despite the fact "I can't afford it" (I can, but just less comfortably than I'd like) and that I find it to be an unattractive car in order to more comfortably transport my children in maximum safety. IF they are no more safe, or only slightly more safe in the back seats than any other car, I might be better off with a more affordable car.

As people have mentioned, 100mph is rather extreme and perhaps NO ONE is safe at that speed. But then, I've never seen a car so "cleanly" split like this. In this particular case, seems like the driver might have been able to walk away from the accident had he been seatbelted but the passengers in the rear seat would be 100% dead.

I'm thrilled with my Model S. LOVE IT. But my Model X would be purchased 80% due to the safety factor - and that only matters to me if that extends to the rear seats.

Cindy I II III | 06/07/2014

Henry, I'm sure you won't drive ~100mph side ways to a pole with your children inside.

During hurricane Irene, a person was killed by fallen tree while stuck in traffic. The roof crash testing results for model s make me feel a whole lot safer driving on tree-hugging roads everyday. The roof protection certainly extends to the rear passengers. Also, with no fuel tank in the back, passengers in model s will not be subject to the burning those in the Toyota had to tragically endure on Friday.

Brian H | 06/07/2014

The rear of the stolen car is the part that got stuck between 2 synagogue buildings.

crumple zone, not crumble. Think blankets, not cookies. ;)

minervo.florida | 06/07/2014

I really cannot believe that anyone expects a car company to make a car that will protect you at a 100mph crash in the city.

Back seats or front seats, does not matter.

Henry, if you drive ANY car and have a 100mph crash do not EXPECT to survive.

Wait til a fool cell has a crash like that, it will be a small mushroom cloud.

MacDaddyDude | 06/07/2014

Highly unlikely that you will be going 100+ down city streets. The more likely scenario would be getting rear ended. A few months back a Model S was rear ended by an 18 wheeler. The owners said any third row occupants would have had glass injuries but the area was intact. The second row certainly was protected. Don't know factors such as speed or whether truck was carrying cargo or not (weight) but I can't think of another vehicle that would have performed as well.

AndyO | 06/07/2014

@MacDaddyDude: and in that accident, the MS drove home and the semi had to be towed away. Yeah, that was a quirky hit on the semi but still a good story.

The side impact testing that is done uses a wide, blunt ram that simulates being T-boned by a car which is the far more likely hit to take on the side of the car. As has been stated, you're asking for problems to be driving at that speed anyway. I still feel just as safe in my MS as I did before this "accident."

LEvans | 06/07/2014

So do we know anything about the status of the driver?

LEvans | 06/07/2014

So I saw this article with additional photos and the one thing that struck me is though the driver's area is maintained it seems if you had any passengers in the back seat they would have likely died from this accident as it looks like the area behind the B pillar is all opened up, exposed, and in flames.

Of course this is not to suggest that the Model S should be able to survive a multiple impact crash at around 100 mph but it seems whatever caused the car to separate in two would be quite detrimental to the people sitting behind the B pillar.

That must have been some crazy impact to rip the car into 2 pieces.

AmpedRealtor | 06/07/2014

Why isn't anyone screaming about the Honda that got got beheaded by the Tesla? Shouldn't Honda be designing their cars so that people don't get their heads chopped off by another vehicle flying through the air at 100 MPH?

You hit a light pole at 100 MPH, you kind of expect the car to get chopped in half. It's like a sheet of paper flying towards a knife. You know, when a jumbo jet slams into harmless water at over 500 MPH, it explodes and a billion little pieces. Speed does that even with materials that are otherwise completely innocuous. A tornado can send a plastic drinking straw through your skull.

Come on...

LEvans | 06/07/2014

Hi there @AmpedRealtor :) None of what I mentioned disputes anything you said. All I said is that it is a good thing there were no occupants in the back seat as they likely would not have survived this accident since the car sliced in two.

As tough as the Model S is, it is sobering to see that at high enough speed, something can slice the car in half. Do we know if it was the light pole that caused the car to break into two pieces?

As for the Honda, I think we all agree the Model S is a far safer car. I'm sure you've seen what happened to the Corolla that was in an awful accident with a Model S. Oh and I know the Honda got smashed up by the Model S but I think the actual "beheading" was done by the fire department to extricate the people inside...

akikiki | 06/07/2014

AmpedRealtor, while reviewing the film footage many times, I saw the fireman peeling the top of the Honda back. I think they were doing that to get people out of Honda. I don't believe it lost its top when the Tesla hit it.

AmpedRealtor | 06/07/2014

My post was mostly directed at people like Henry T2 who are trying to turn this into an analysis of Model S rear passenger safety.

Captain_Zap | 06/07/2014


It was two light poles.

Grinnin'.VA | 06/07/2014

The car split in the vicinity of the back of the back seat. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the car is weak at that point. It may be that the point of impact was at that location.

Ron :)

AmpedRealtor | 06/07/2014

Now I'm going to flinch every time I pass a light pole... not!

Bighorn | 06/07/2014

I bet the folks in the Honda aren't upset that the Tesla broke in half before hitting them.

Red Sage ca us | 06/07/2014

HenryT2 commented, "The Model S is rather unusual in that the motor is probably inside the passenger compartment."

Uhm... No. There are numerous vehicles that have the motor far more 'inside the passenger compartment' than the Tesla Model S.

The Toyota Previa had the motor under the floor, between the front driver and passenger. Dodge Vans had the motor literally inside the cabin between driver and passenger. You would remove panels inside the cabin to service the motor in both of them.

The reason for the 'transmission hump' in Front Engine Rear Wheel Drive applications is that a primary portion of the drivetrain protruded directly into the passenger compartment. Older cars were designed with vents in the firewall specifically to allow heat direct from the motor into the cabin, along with the prerequisite fumes, for heating.

In Mid-Engine Rear Wheel Drive vehicles, you

In the Tesla Model S, the motor is behind the rear axle, between the rear wheels, completely under the car. So sure, anyone using the optional jump seats, would technically be sitting on top of the motor. The grand majority of buyers don't get the jump seats though, so that area is used as storage.

"I'm just curious as to whether that extreme protection extends to the rear seat by design, or whether the rear is designed with less tolerance (which it may have to be due to the position of the motor)."

No. If anything, with this being a stressed part of the vehicle due to the powerful motor being there, the rear part of the Tesla Model S is more reinforced than any other vehicle on the market at its size. If the NHTSA starts testing side impact with a pole at 100+ MPH exactly ZERO vehicles by any manufacturer, will EVER survive with a 'passing' grade. Cars, vans, and SUVs have been split in two simply by a motorcycle driving through them at less than 100 MPH. The grand majority of fatal accidents take place on surface streets, in municipal areas, at speeds below 45 MPH. If the occupants of your car can't survive crashes at that speed level, then they have no hope whatsoever of surviving beyond that level. None.

Vehicles would have to become so overbuilt to achieve that level of safety that all the hard work by the auto industry to achieve higher fuel economy, even with hybrids, would be utterly ruined. Conversely, all vehicles would have to be limited in top speed anyway, probably to no more than 75 or 80 MPH, to decrease the risk further, and prevent the wasteful use of fuel. And, except for fully electric cars, 0-60 in less than 20 seconds would be a fargone memory. Because even the smallest cars, the size of a Fiat 500 would weigh more than the Tesla Model S does today, if anyone even bothered to build a car so small at all.

"If this is the case, they might (in extreme situations like this) always break off together losing the protection of the passenger cabin of the car."

The thief had multiple collisions and kept driving. He kept going faster, and faster, until stopped by physics. Yes, that is an extreme situation. A case of extreme stupidity. This is not a fault of the vehicle.

"But then, I've never seen a car so 'cleanly' split like this."

That's because most cars would have wrapped themselves around the first car, or pole, they hit, then obliterated completely. They wouldn't have survived the first collision, or the second, long enough to get to the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth...

Plugged In | 06/07/2014

Silly question: Does anyone actually question the safety of the Model S?

If so, perhaps it should be shielded from h-bomb incineration.

Which, come to think of it, may not be a horrid idea if Fuel Cell cars go public.

Otherwise I would prefer improving upon range, supercharger locations and coming out with an affordable car for most everybody, rather than noodle over its crashwortiness at 100 mph. What do you think?

Haeze | 06/07/2014

To those saying the rear of the car "rode up" the light pole, you are mistaken. If you look at the orientation of the light pole, the bottom of the pole is pointed toward the building. This means the pole sheared off, and passed over, or simply around, the rear of the car. With the skid marks in the road, it looks like he side-swiped the black Lincoln, lost control sliding sideways, hit the curb with the driver's side of the Model S, launched up in the air, most likely striking the pole with the top of the car. Car splits in half, flinging the rear into the building, and the front of the car on top of the roof and trunk of the Honda. Honda spun out 180 degrees, front of tesla rests in street along side.

I am betting as the car was ripped in half, any support structure the seat may have had could easily have been broken, forcing him from the rear of the (now ripped in half) car. This means no amount of seat belts could have possibly held a person in, since they were pulled backwards away from the belt. The fact that the front airbags did not deploy is not a surprise, since this was a side collision. If they HAD fired on a side-impact, that would be a failure of the airbag system. The fact that the nose of the car looks relatively undamaged shows that there was no frontal collision, so the front airbags rightfully did not deploy.

For those asking how the car was stolen, I am betting the theif got ahold of the fob. Think of the timeline... the alarm at the Service Center went off, the owner was allerted. He checks his security cameras and sees the guys snooping around. He calls the police and reports it.... the theives had from the moment the alarm was triggered, until the police arrived to get in a car and drive. That is several minutes that they had to find a fob and double-click the button to see which car responded.

Bighorn | 06/07/2014

I appreciate your conjecture. If you study this picture, it appears your thoughts about no airbags and/or frontal damage may be erroneous.

AndyO | 06/07/2014

Also, one of the videos clearly showed the right side curtain airbags had deployed and were being burned up. Maybe everyone noticed that already. | 06/07/2014

This tragic incident has no bearing on the safety systems of any vehicle involved. This is a five or six sigma case of 4600+ pounds of material smashed and thrown around with ridiculous force. That the perpetrator survived is a minor miracle. I hope he lives to be prosecuted. I hope the innocent victims fully recover from their injuries and receive ample compensation for their losses. Tesla Service Center security needs to be improved in the wake of this theft to prevent a recurrence. Police forces worldwide need to learn from this and consider tactics other than high speed pursuit when confronted with the theft of a vehicle that can be tracked and found via the Internet so as not to contribute to the probability of such an incident.

Jonathan D | 06/07/2014

georgehawley I don't know just who you think you are but that type of measured, rational response has no place on the internet!

Thumper | 06/07/2014

In the LAPDs defense, if the thief was already driving around at high speed. Their efforts to catch and stop him was not the problem. If he was just tooling around casually in a stolen car, then, sure they should just use the GPS had they known about it. | 06/07/2014

@Red Sage

Thank you for the point by point response to HenryT2's comments. Those comments were driving me crazy.

PV_Dave @US-PA | 06/07/2014

Note to self: try not to drive world's safest car off a bridge and into the ocean. it cannot swim.

Note to self: try not to drive world's safest car 100 MPH into concrete wall. already been done, and insurance won't be happy.

I would request that individuals concerned about the safety of the rear seat passengers when the Tesla Model S is at ground zero of a thermonuclear explosion please start a new thread for that discussion.

Similarly, it would seem that those who wish to debate the best way to 100% ensure that a Tesla cannot be stolen (other than vaporizing it within said thermonuclear explosion, which would technically prevent it from subsequently being stolen) should probably consider a new thread for that discussion.

But if anyone has any actual INFORMATION on the accident in question... well, I'd love to hear about it! ;-)

Red Sage ca us | 06/07/2014

GaryREM: You are welcome. ;-)

Though, it seems I was distracted by a phone call as I was composing the bit about mid-engine vehicles... Oops. Maybe I'll finish it later. :-D

Haeze: I believe that this photo may show part of what you were speaking about...

I'm pretty sure that the thief had struck other vehicles prior to reaching the intersection though, forcing the car to careen toward the curb, lamp post, and entryway. This would have been far worse if it had been a gasoline powered vehicle. It would have seemed like a napalm strike on the block, with flaming pieces raining down on the entire scene.

J.T. | 06/07/2014

@ Red Sage Considering the final resting place of the rear seemed like a napalm strike on the block, with flaming pieces raining down on the entire scene maybe fire and brimstone would be a more suitable metaphor.

nav66 | 06/07/2014

@Gen3Joe, I want to reiterate the point you make.

Cops should know that there is no need to pursue a Model S. It's position is known. The injuries to innocent motorists happened after the high-speed pursuit was initiated, therefore the police hold some culpability.

Again, the practice of high-speed pursuit is absolutely unnecessary with the Model S.

Captain_Zap | 06/07/2014


Just to catch you up on the news, the officers were in an accident about many miles before the final crash. Officers were injured.

Search the news reports and sift through all the information. It is too early to draw conclusions about what the scenario was.

nav66 | 06/07/2014

Oops -- I posted on the wrong thread. Sorry folks. But you see what I mean, I hope.

nav66 | 06/07/2014

@Captain_Zap. Thanks for the update. It has been hard to get details on this story! Good to have the forum, for sure.

Red Sage ca us | 06/07/2014

J.T.: Oh! Uhm... Ominous Dominus... In the Name of the King... I missed the bus... He missed the bus... We missed the bus... They missed the bus... Where the hell is the bus? Magna Cum Laude... Summa Cum Laude... The Radio's Too Loudie...