San Francisco

Tesla No Longer Party With NTSB in Investigating Fatal Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board said it removed Tesla as a party to the NTSB’s investigation of the March fatal crash of a Tesla Model X near Mountain View on Wednesday, but Tesla said it removed itself from the investigation on Tuesday.

The NTSB's decision comes after Palo Alto-based Tesla released the investigative information that the 2017 Model X car was in autopilot mode when it crashed on March 23 on Highway 101, killing San Mateo resident Walter Huang.

The NTSB said Tesla violated party agreement by releasing that information before it was vetted and confirmed by the NTSB.

"It is unfortunate that Tesla, by its actions, did not abide by the party agreement,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in a statement.

Sumwalt said NTSB informed Tesla CEO Elon Musk by phone Wednesday evening and again Thursday by letter.

"While we understand the demand for information that parties face during an NTSB investigation, uncoordinated releases of incomplete information do not further transportation safety or serve the public interest," Sumwalt said.

A Tesla spokesperson told NBC Bay Area Thursday that Tesla chose to withdraw from the investigation on Tuesday and said NTSB has violated its own rules by "repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media."

The spokesperson said Tesla plans to make an offcial complaint to Congress about NTSB and will be issuing a Freedom of Information Act request to "understand the reasoning behind their focus on the safest cars in America while they ignore the cars that are the least safe."

After the incident, Tesla said the driver received “several visual and audible” hands-on warnings earlier in the drive but his hands were not detected on the wheel six seconds before the collision.

The SUV was traveling at "freeway speed" when it hit the barrier near Mountain View, Tesla said. The California Highway Patrol said the SUV caught fire for unknown reasons. Huang was pulled from the vehicle by rescuers and later died at a hospital.

On Wednesday, Huang's family has hired a San Francisco-based law firm to help them explore legal options, according to the law firm. The family declined to comment on the investigation.

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