Mystery of Deadly Tesla Crash Solved as Authorities Share Why No One Was in Driver's Seat

Authorities didn't find anybody behind the wheel in the aftermath of the 2021 crash that killed two men in Texas, leading to speculation about what happened and whether autopilot was a factor

Authorities Solved Mystery of Fatal Tesla Crash Where Nobody Was Found Behind the Wheel
Tesla after crash and fire. Photo: National Transportation Safety Board;

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued their final report about a fatal Tesla crash that took place in Texas two years ago, killing two men.

The crash took place shortly after 9:00 p.m. on April 17, 2021, when a Tesla crashed into a tree and caught fire on a residential road in Harris County, the NTSB said in a release. When authorities recovered the bodies of the two men inside the car, there was no one behind the wheel, which initially led to speculation that the car may have been in autopilot at the time.

However, in their investigative report, which was released on Wednesday, officials wrote that although the car was equipped with the autopilot, the system "could not be engaged" on the road where the crash occurred.

As for the mystery of why there was nobody behind the wheel, authorities say "available evidence suggests that the driver was seated in the driver's seat at the time of the crash and moved into the rear seat post crash."

The report specifically noted that data showed the accelerator input was "consistent with driver activity in the 5 seconds prior" to the crash and that the driver's seat belt was connected at the time of impact.

The agency said that after an investigation, they determined the probable cause of the crash "was the driver's excessive speed and failure to control his car due to impairment from alcohol intoxication in combination with the effects of two sedating antihistamines."

On the night of the crash, authorities said that the driver and his wife had friends over and that the driver "had an alcoholic drink" there and "consumed additional alcohol during dinner," according to his wife, who had driven the group home from the restaurant in a different car.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

"Upon arriving home, the driver entered the residence to retrieve the car's key card to show his friend the car," the report stated, noting that security footage showed them entering "around 9:07 p.m."

"The driver drove out of his driveway and onto the cul-de-sac, and then accelerated," the report continues.

The NTSB wrote that in the five seconds before impact, the car "accelerated from 39 mph to a top speed of 67 mph."

There was no evidence of braking, according to the report.

RELATED VIDEO: Dad Likely Popped Hatch as Car Sank into Mich. Lake, Saving His 2 Young Girls Before He Died: Cops

After traveling about 550 feet, the car departed the road and drove over a curb, according to the agency. It then proceeded to hit a storm sewer inlet and a raised manhole before "sideswiping a tree" and then crashing into another.

The crash damaged the front of the car's lithium-ion battery case, which caused the fire to start.

The driver's toxicology report showed he had a blood alcohol level of .151 grams per deciliter, almost twice the legal limit for driving in Texas, officials wrote.

Autopsies determined that the 59-year-old driver's cause of death was "blunt force trauma and thermal injuries with smoke inhalation."

The 69-year-old passenger died from blunt-force trauma to the torso and extremities as well as thermal injuries, per the report.

Although not named in the report, the two victims were identified by CBS affiliate KHOU-TV as Dr. William Varner and Everette Talbot.

In the report, the NTSB wrote that it took about 20,000 gallons of water to put out the fire and that responders had to find a guide on how to extinguish the flames online.

"The NTSB has recommended to manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries that they provide information for how to extinguish electric vehicle fires in their emergency response guides in a standardized format, and also that they provide vehicle-specific information," the NTSB wrote.

"Having the emergency response guides published in a clear, consistent format would improve their usefulness to emergency responders and make it quicker and easier to find the necessary information," the agency added.

Related Articles