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NTSB: 2021 fiery Tesla crash in Spring caused by driver who was speeding, intoxicated

Dr. William Varner and Everette Talbot were both killed in the crash. Constable Mark Herman argued there was never anyone behind the wheel.

SPRING, Texas — The National Transportation Safety Board released a new report Wednesday that sheds more light on the 2021 Tesla crash that killed two men in Spring.

The report said the cause of the crash was due to the driver speeding and being impaired by alcohol and medication. In fact, the report read that in the five seconds leading up to the crash, the Tesla accelerated from 39 to 67 mph and a toxicology report found the driver had a 1.5 alcohol level. 

"We determined that the probable cause of the Spring, Texas, electric vehicle 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, resulting in a roadway departure, tree impact, and postcrash fire," the NTSB reported. 

READ: Two dead in wreck involving Tesla that Pct. 4 says burned nearly four hours

What happened

On April 17, 2021, Dr. William Varner and Everette Talbot decided to take a ride in Varner's 2019 Tesla Model S P100D. They left Varner's home and traveled about 550 feet before the electric car drove off the road, hit a storm sewer inlet and crashed into two trees, NTSB said. 

The crash damaged the Tesla's lithium-ion battery case and caught fire in the Carlton Woods Subdivision on Hammock Dunes Place, the NTSB reported. 

Varner and Talbot were both killed in the crash. 

The day after, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman reported that it took firefighters nearly four hours and more than 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire. He said when his deputies were finally able to recover the bodies from the Tesla, they noticed no one was behind the wheel, leading them to believe no one was driving the vehicle upon impact. 

Herman said one person was found in the front passenger seat and the other person was in the backseat.

This assumption caused  Elon Musk and Tesla executives to respond, disputing Herman's claims that the crash was caused by an autopilot feature.

"We inspected the car with NTSB and NTHSA and the local police and we were able to find that the steering wheel was indeed deformed," a Tesla executive said nine days after the crash. "So there was leading to the likelihood that someone was in the driver's seat at the time of the crash and all seatbelts post-crash were found to be unbuckled.”

A preliminary report from NTSB  showed footage of Dr. Varner getting in the driver’s seat and Talbot getting into the passenger seat before they took off. The agency said Dr. Varner managed to move into the backseat right after the crash. 

In its most recent report, the NTSB recommended to manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage batteries to provide emergency response guides to help emergency responders in the event of a fire.

KHOU 11 reporter Matt Dougherty is following this story and will have updates on KHOU 11 News at 10 p.m.

Check back for any updates.

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