An April 17 Tesla Model S joyride near Houston, Texas, ended in a fatal fire that took the lives of both the car’s occupants.
Investigators at the scene made a shocking discovery: they determined with a “100 percent” certainty that nobody was in the driver’s seat, leading to speculation that the Tesla had its Autopilot feature turned on during the moments leading up to the crash.
Days later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk threw water on the theory, claiming that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.”
Now, the mysterious incident is getting even stranger. According to Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy, there was in fact somebody in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash, The Verge reports.
The conclusion directly contradicts the findings of police at the scene. According to Moravy, the steering wheel was “deformed,” suggesting that the driver’s seat was occupied at the time of the crash.
“All seatbelts post-crash were found to be unbuckled,” the Tesla VP said. It’s a noteworthy piece of the puzzle, as Autopilot is designed to only work when all seatbelts are buckled.
The self-driving feature can, however, be easily fooled into registering somebody in the driver’s seat, as a damning Consumer Reports investigation following the crash demonstrated.
According to The Verge, Moravy’s comments came after inspecting the crash while accompanied by local law enforcement and investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Both agencies are currently investigating the collision and have subpoenaed data from the electric car company.
It’s difficult what to make of this latest claim. We’ve heard contradicting news about several aspects of this tragic crash.
For instance, local news station KHOU initially noted that it took firefighters four hours to extinguish the roaring fire. But in a statement to the Houston Chronicle, local fire chief Palmer Buck later said that the fire was put down in just “two to three minutes, enough to see the vehicle had occupants. After that, it was simply cooling the car as the batteries continued to have a chain reaction due to damage.”
Tesla is clearly trying to save face after the latest incident, which may or may not have involved its trademark self-driving feature. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also been highly defensive, lashing out at the media and arguing that coverage was unfairly focusing on Tesla.
The mysteries and many unanswered questions left in the wake of the April crash only underline that investigations from neutral parties will play a key role in understanding what actually happened. Hopefully, we’ll get some more answers from the NHTSA and NTSB’s investigation soon.
READ MORE: Tesla claims someone was in the driver’s seat in deadly Texas crash [The Verge]
More on the crash: It’s Shockingly Easy to Drive a Tesla Without Anybody in the Driver’s Seat