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Stolen Tesla Model S crashes and burns in spectacular fashion

Tesla has had problems with Model S battery fires before. Very early on July 4 another Tesla caught fire after a collision resulting in an aftermath that must be seen to be believed.

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There previously had been three fires involving the Tesla Model S, all within a short span of time last year and all of which generated very bad publicity for the fledgling electric automaker.

Two of the battery fires were legitimate, having been caused by road debris. They were also responded to in a highly appropriate manner. The third was mostly overlooked given that it involved a drunk driver who collided with various solid obstacles at over 100 miles per hour before his Tesla caught fire – the driver walked away from the accident, and the prevailing reaction was “well, that guy is one lucky idiot.”

A horrifying scene

Early on July 4 in Hollywood, another Tesla caught fire in similarly spectacular fashion. In a violent series of collisions, a Model S that had somehow been stolen from a Tesla store was fleeing from police at speeds reaching 100 miles per hour when disaster struck.

It is believed the Tesla first struck a Honda Civic carrying five passengers before going airborne and striking a light pole. The impact sheared the vehicle in two and, amazingly, the back end of the Model S ended up wedged in midair between two walls of a synagogue while the front end caught fire several hundred feet away in the middle of the street. Several parked cars were also struck, and the Tesla battery was broken into multiple pieces that caught fire in the street, sparking and popping like fireworks set off 20 hours too early. Check out videos and photos here and here.

The aftermath

In what is surely some sort of miracle, nobody has yet died from the accident. Six were injured, two in serious condition and two in critical condition. The driver of the Tesla was ejected at some point in the proceedings and was initially believed to be dead, but remains in critical condition at the time of this writing.

The theft was reported around 12:50 AM, and police gave chase soon afterward. It is unclear how the thief managed to steal the vehicle from the Tesla store, but we will update you with details as they are reported.

It is also unclear how the showroom version of the car that was stolen differs from the production models, and how this might have affected the sequence of events after initial impact. Again, we will provide details as they are released. No doubt Tesla will want to clarify what happened in the interest of protecting their safety reputation.

Though it is hardly surprising that the battery caught fire after being split into several pieces, the incident nevertheless does not look good for Tesla. Even though any vehicle would have suffered a similar if not worse fate, Tesla is held to a higher standard whether fair or not. It will be interesting to hear what the company has to say about this spectacular collision.

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Jim (not verified)    July 5, 2014 - 9:47AM

There has been two, perhaps three Tesla crashes that Tesla batteries have had fires and explosions from thermal runaways. Additionally 2 other Teslas have had battery fires from thermal runaways after only hitting debris in the road. The last two days there has been fiery crashes involving Teslas. The fiery Tesla crash from a couple days ago, the Tesla battery broke apart burned and exploded. Tesla battery cells can be seen burning, exploding and shooting off like flaming rockets about 60 feet or more in the air. The Tesla Inferno was spreading toxic fumes and fire. The driver was hospitalized in critical condition and might die. Emergency responders risked their lives fighting the Tesla battery fires, explosions, shrapnel and hazardous toxic fumes.

Tesla charge connections are also a fire hazard. There's been a lot of UMCs that have overheated, melted and burned.

There also has been at least 2 garage fires involving Teslas. A fire department ruled that the Tesla universal mobile charger was a possible source of one of the Tesla garage fires.

No mystery why the Tesla model S's nickname is Toaster. The Tesla model S. unsafe like Ford Pintos.

Tesla's are dangerous no matter how dishonest people spin it. Lithium drive batteries are more likely to catch fire and explode after being punctured than gasoline tanks.

Mandy (not verified)    July 7, 2014 - 10:14AM

In reply to by Jim (not verified)

"Jim", here we have someone like Elon working hard to bring us a car which is clearly safer than the same old your Ford is putting up there. Look at numbers you moron and you will find we have over 200,000 fire in gasoline cars you drive every year. Reply to this post and show us the math on where 40,000 Tesla cars, driven over 350 million miles are nearly as dangerous as your gasoline cars. You ignorant, remember Paul Walker died burned to death with driver friend after an explosion on the tank of a Porsche car which costs 5 times more than a Tesla and I never saw you posting around complaining of that car burning. Clearly you have an agenda, but the Internet is amazing tool to let us spot losers like you.

g.r.r. (not verified)    July 11, 2014 - 11:20PM

In reply to by Jim (not verified)

Jim, are you now trolling over here. Tesla has had 3 fires until this time. In addition, none of them exploded. They have had 1 garage fire.
As to this accident, you have a guy that did 100 MPH in a heavy car, that this hits a light pole. That turned the lightpole into a knife. There is NO CAR, TRUCK, OR EVEN SEMI that could withstand that. They would be sliced in half.
And as to the fire, there is no gas/diesel car that has this many instances on the road, with this many miles, without a large number of fires and deaths.
You can continue to troll and try to lie about it, but the fact remains that with more than 50K cars on the road, and millions of miles, it has 1 death, no serious injuries, and 4 fires.

Jerome Strach (not verified)    July 5, 2014 - 12:30PM

This accident isn't Tesla's fault. That said, Tesla & Mr.Musk have a PR conundrum come Monday. I'm pro-Tesla & I very much admire Elon Musk, but here is what surprises me:
1) IF the thief took car from Tesla dealer/service center, was FOB taken? (Probably) Corp will issue new protocol on storing & handling FOBs ASAP. IF thief hacked car, bigger issue. (But unlikely)
2) I'm surprised the car split in half, but two tons traveling at 100mph is an awful lot of kinetic energy. Perhaps analysis of accident may reveal passenger cage vulnerability.
3) battery pack fire: if the battery pack rips in half from high speed impact and strews cells (debris) across accident scene, Elon's nightmare is to have fire and sparks in multiple locations NOT contained within battery chamber (and good video of it in a dark environment for extra drama). That will be a double face palm for Elon. He will exclaim the car was stolen, driven wrecklessly, and the high speed impact is to blame for car disintigration & fire(s), but there is no video of accident so media/public will not be able to fully comprehend violence of collision that resulted in half the car wedged off ground in between wall & bldg.
4) Driver was thrown from car (seatbelt used?); if YES then how? And equally troubling it was reported airbags did NOT deploy. If that's true, how in the world is that possible.
Tesla will most likely analyze data prior to crash and I imagine due to injuries someone will virtually recreate accident sequence of events. It may get less coverage in media cycle because of 4 day weekend, but if history tels us anything - Monday will be a tough day for them because media knows Tesla will react defensively. Or they "no comment", but that's a lose-lose too. As I said, PR conundrum.

g.r.r. (not verified)    July 11, 2014 - 10:54PM

In reply to by Jerome Strach (not verified)

So many things wrong here.
1) the car was in mid air doing 100 mph and struck a lightpole. For all intents and purposes, this is the WORST situation that can be done in a crash. The reason is that you have large amounts of kinetic energy, and then hit a relatively thin piece of metal. Basically, it will slice pretty much through anything.
Had he hit a car, or even a brick wall, he likely would have walked away like the idiot in Mexico did.
2) There have been 3 model S fires before this (with one charger fire in a garage). Nothing happened to these ppl. OTOH, with any gas or diesel car that hits at 100 MPH, you WILL have massive fire. For example, Paul Walker's porsche hit a wall at 80 MPH, and basically burned the driver to death, while Walker was considered dead BEFORE the fire had totally spread.
So, the issue about the battery fire is not a big one.
3) considering that the driver was thrown out of the car, and the airbag had gone off, it is likely that the driver was NOT wearing a seatbelt. However, if you examine the pix, you can see that the entire left side of the car was cut by the light pole. Technically, it is possible that he was wearing it and the belt was cut, but I doubt.
4) there is NO car made today that would have done better in that situation.

Charlotte Omoto (not verified)    July 5, 2014 - 12:58PM

I have never been a fan of high speed police chases, (a friend was killed when a police giving chase T-boned his vehicle in an intersection). This case really did not call for one since Tesla could locate the vehicle via app. If the police had not given chase, it would have been best for all concerned.

Thomas Lawson (not verified)    July 5, 2014 - 4:36PM

While some might find this alarming, a gasoline propelled car would have experienced a similar thermal incident. They should not be overly judged for this incident.

Richard Hubert (not verified)    July 7, 2014 - 3:20PM

As many have already pointed out - all petrol powered cars with a decent load of gasoline would have also had spectacular fires if involved in a similar crash, so I do not fault the Tesla at all in this case.

But I have to agree with Charlotte above about why the police had to initiate a high speed chase when presumably the Tesla store could not only track the exact location of the vehicle, but presumably may have also been able to totally disable it with some kind of remote master kill switch.

And finally - how much charge did the car have? When driven very aggressively like that battery life would not have lasted long and the car would have been forced to stop soon anyway.

What is sad in this incident are the five innocents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Doubtful they can recover any $$ from the thief who was the real cause of this tragedy, so their lawyer will probably sue Tesla for some contrived excuse about how it was all their fault for not securing the vehicle better.