In past articles about the crash of a Tesla near Houston, I mentioned that I had requested information from Constable Mark Herman about the crash. Today, I received a disappointing response, but did get a little bit of useful information.
The Limited Information That Was Provided
While they wouldn’t give me the full details, they did give a limited public report on the incident. The time and location was given, as well as the names of people involved, but with no indication of what each’s involvement was. Vehicle information was listed (including the VIN and value), and that a major crash killed two people.
This is almost all stuff that we already knew, but I’ll include that page below, as well as a link to download the original PDF.
One interesting thing that came from the VIN was that the vehicle was sold on eBay at the end of 2020. In the ad, the seller said the following: “Tesla Model S Performance Model with Ludicrous mode, crazy fast, single owner, see sticker in pictures. Like new. This VIN was just after the refresh that included the longer range battery type and full time suspension…”
This tells us that the vehicle hadn’t been owned by the deceased for very long, and that it was a performance version, the kind that one may want to show off to a friend if they came for a visit.
While the investigation is still ongoing and things could change, it seems pretty clear that Autopilot wasn’t in use, nor was TACC, and it’s very likely that there was a driver in the seat. The only remaining reasonable possibility that I can see right now was that a powerful vehicle proved to be too much for a driver who wasn’t very experienced with it (whether owner or guest) and was perhaps intoxicated. It’s very tragic, and this sort of thing happens all the time with powerful vehicles from all manufacturers.
We frequently see performance vehicles, including Teslas, involved in wrecks on YouTube and other social media sites, and even Elon Musk managed to do this one time:
My Partially Honored Records Request
In the interest of transparency, here’s exactly what I asked them for:
“I’d like more information on how investigators determined that there was no driver in an accident involving a 2019 Tesla Model S on Saturday night (April 18). Accident occurred 11:25 p.m. in the Carlton Woods subdivision near The Woodlands. Information on exact crash site and direction of travel would also be helpful. Whole report is also OK as long as it doesn’t exceed email size.”
Some of this information has come out since the crash, but keep in mind that I made this request the following morning.
There’s still one point of confusion, though. In the recent Q1 Tesla earnings call, Lars Moravy, VP of Engineering for Tesla, told us several things about the accident, including that there’s evidence that a person was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash, and that neither Autopilot nor TACC were in use. Obviously, this conflicts with prior statements from Constable Mark Herman that they were “100% certain” nobody occupied that seat.
When I saw the email come in, I was hoping I’d get to see why they thought this and put some more pieces together. Unfortunately, I was told that they don’t want to release the information, citing an exemption in the Texas open records statute.
March 29, 2021 (Note: I think they got this date wrong)
On April 19, 2021, you requested for the details for case number 2104-02102.
The records responsive to your request may be exempt from disclosure under Section 552.108(a)(1), Texas Government Code. Your request and all responsive documents have been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General for an opinion regarding their release, per Section 552.301 of the Texas Government Code. The Attorney General’s opinion determines whether or not the records are are released. As soon as the opinion is rendered from the Attorney General’s office, you will be notified. The public release version of the offense report is provided to you. Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please call me at (phone number).
Captain Nicole Allen
Custodian of Records
To understand this better, I looked up the Texas statute they cited, 552.108(a)(1):
(a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:
(1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime;
In other words, they are claiming that they can withhold these records because releasing the information would interfere with their investigation of a crime in some way. Given, though, that all of the people who could be charged with a crime died in the crash, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to claim that a crime is still being investigated or prosecuted. There’s just nobody to prosecute.
Knowing what happened in the crash is important, and I get why an investigation would continue, but it’s a real stretch to still call it an investigation of a crime when there is nobody that could possibly be prosecuted were they to determine a crime was committed.
It also seems that the other investigating agencies, NHTSA and NTSB, don’t have any authority to impose criminal penalties, and violation of vehicle safety standards (should they decide Tesla was responsible for that, which seems very unlikely at this point) only carries civil penalties. Thus, an investigation of a crime on their part is not underway, either.
There are a lot of other possibilities here, and we don’t yet know exactly what the motivation to be non-transparent is in this case. It could be a delay tactic of some kind, or there may be more to the case than has been revealed to the public. The evidence we’ve gathered from other sources all points away from Tesla being liable for this, so that’s probably not the issue.
I reached out to them again to ask for more detail on why they think this exemption applies, and will also be reaching out to the Texas Attorney General’s office.
The Original Documents
Featured image: A Tesla Model S, image by Tesla.
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