Tesla Driver Killed After Being Trapped in Burning Model S That Collided With a Tree

Emergency responders say that the door handles failed to open when they arrived at the scene.

The driver of a 2016 Tesla Model S was killed in Davie, Florida on Sunday after his vehicle struck a tree and was engulfed in flames. Onlookers and emergency responders were unable to rescue the driver trapped in the burning car when the door handles reportedly failed to deploy.

According to reports, the Model S swerved through three lanes of traffic before it ventured into the median. That’s when the vehicle struck several trees and came to a stop before catching fire.

Witnesses who were reportedly on the scene of the accident claim they were unable to extract the driver from the vehicle before flames began to spread. Emergency crews corroborated this statement, noting that the door handles of the Model S failed to deploy after the accident.

“Model S has unique door handles. Under normal conditions, when you press a handle, it extends to allow you to open the door,” reads Tesla’s guide for emergency responders. “When an airbag inflates, Model S unlocks all doors, the trunk, and extends all door handles.”

It’s not immediately clear why the handles did not extend when the airbags deployed.

Tesla’s workaround for a door handle that does not extend is to “open the door manually by reaching inside the window and using the interior door handle.” According to the same on-site witness, this was not possible due to the airbags not deflating. Generally, airbags are designed with vents to deflate upon absorbing the energy of an occupant.

“We had only a couple of [minutes],” wrote Thomas in another tweet. “Several people were trying to find ways to get to the driver but the car doors and bags trapped the driver and kept us from getting to him before the car was taken over by fire.”

The door handles on the Model S have long been a complaint of consumers, some taking to the official Tesla forums in order to declare them a safety hazard. One poster even described an eerily similar scenario, stating that first responders could have an issue should door handles not deploy.

Police spokeswoman Vivian Gallinal told the local Miami Herald that speed is believed to be a factor in the crash but did not elaborate further. Initial witnesses who supplied information to police believe the driver to have been travelling between 75 and 90 miles per hour when the crash was initiated.

Emergency crews managed to extinguish the blaze on the scene; however, local news reports that the vehicle’s battery pack caught fire “once again from a ruptured battery,” on Monday morning. Tesla states that battery fires can take up to 24 hours to extinguish.

“We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy,” a Tesla Spokesperson told The Drive. “We have reached out to the local authorities to offer our cooperation. We understand that speed is being investigated as a factor in this crash, and know that high speed collisions can result in a fire in any type of car, not just electric vehicles.”