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Man who died in fatal crash with Model S on Autopilot was allegedly watching a movie

Telsa’s much-lauded Autopilot feature on the Model S and Model X managed to log a combined 130 million miles without a single crash involving a fatality. That phenomenal streak came to an end recently, however, when Tesla acknowledged that the Autopilot feature was engaged on a Model S when it struck a tractor-trailer while traveling at high speeds. The driver of the Model S was killed in the horrific crash, and Telsa is now cooperating with an investigation being conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

As impressive as Tesla’s Autopilot feature is, drivers are always advised to keep their attention on the road even while autonomous features are enabled. But according the driver of the truck that was struck by the Model S, the driver was actually watching a movie while Autopilot was engaged.

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62-year-old Frank Baressi was driving the tractor-trailer with which the Model S in question collided. The Model S was traveling down a highway with Autopilot engaged when Baressi’s truck pulled across the roadway from a perpendicular street to make a turn in the opposite direction. Neither the Tesla driver nor Autopilot detected the truck, and the Model S drove underneath the trailer while colliding at windshield height.

Here’s a diagram of the incident that was created by Electrek:


In an interview with The Associated Press, Baressi has made a curious but serious accusation. According to his claim, the driver of the Model S was watching a movie on the car’s display when the accident occurred.

Frank Baressi, 62, the driver of the truck and owner of Okemah Express LLC, said the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that “he went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.”

“It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi told The Associated Press in an interview from his home in Palm Harbor, Florida. He acknowledged he couldn’t see the movie, only heard it.

There is no mention of a movie playing on the Tesla’s screen in the police report. Video playback is also disabled automatically when the car is in gear, so the car’s owner would have had to modify the software in some way in order to have been watching a movie while driving. There are no reports at this point suggesting that was the case.

UPDATE: It turns out that there was a portable DVD player found at the scene. So while the driver almost certainly wasn’t watching a movie on the Tesla’s screen, he may very well have been watching a movie on a separate device.

The victim in the crash was former Navy SEAL Joshua D. Brown of Canton, Ohio. Brown was an avid Tesla enthusiast who had previously credited the Autopilot in his Model S with avoiding a collision with a truck.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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