Stolen Tesla Model S Crashes, Burns in Hollywood: Some Perspective, and Decorum, Please

It’s every car owner’s worse nightmare: their prized ride gets stolen, before leading law enforcement officers on a deadly high-speed chase. It gets worse if the high-speed chase ends in a multiple-car crash involving innocent bystanders.

For one Tesla Model S owner, that nightmare has come true after their prized Tesla Model S, stolen and driven at high-speed through west Hollywood, ended its life as a fiery ball, split in two by the force of its final impact, for the world to see. The occupants of the Tesla, along with some of those in the other cars the speeding electric car hit, are in critical condition in hospital.

As you might expect, news outlets around the world have already resuscitated the suspicious Tesla fireball Internet Meme, calling into question again the safety of electric cars and the Silicon-Valley-built Model S in particular.

But as NBC Los Angeles reports, much like those last year when a speeding Tesla Model S flew through the air in Mexico City before busting into flames after hitting a concrete bollard, the circumstances surrounding this terrible tragedy aren’t the kind of things any automaker can prepare for.

It was far from ordinary. Far from normal.

Reports from the scene cite the Tesla as travelling at more than 100 mph when it hit into a Honda carrying five passengers. The force of the impact hospitalised three of the Honda’s passengers — two seriously and one critically — while the Tesla itself carried on its rampage of destruction.

Then, in a flashback to last year’s Mexican Model S crash, the stolen Model S became airborne, hit a light pole and split in two, its rear quarter embedding into the wall of the West Hollywood Central Synagogue.

The rest of the car, which presumably landed on the ground after being torn in two, caught fire as the battery pack appears to have suffered a massive internal short. Like a petrol tank ruptured on impact in a high-speed crash involving a gasoline car, the immense energy of the impact and ruptured battery pack started the inevitable fire.

Over the coming few days, we can expect more from the ‘Teslas aren’t safe’ Internet meme, but here at Transport Evolved, we’d like to offer some clarity, and objectivity on the situation.

Any car travelling at the speeds suggested in initial reports, regardless of its fuel type, would have surely suffered similar consequences, while vehicular fires after high-speed pursuits are expected of any high-performance sports sedan.

Any car travelling through the air after impacting another vehicle at such high speed would likely self-destruct on landing. In fact, positioned correctly, it’s conceivable a gasoline car hitting a light pole at speed would instantaneously become a projectile fireball as the fuel tank ruptures onto hot a hot exhaust, brake discs and fast-running engine.

Tesla hasn’t released an official statement about the accident yet, and as far as we can tell neither has the LAPD — but we’d expect both to offer some form of official statement later on today.

As for the safety of the Model S? Here at Transport Evolved we think the horrifying carnage — through which the Model S’ shape is still clearly visible — shows just how strong the Tesla Model S really is. In fact, we’re struggling to think of any other cars which would be that instantly recognisable after such a terrible ordeal.

Which leaves us one sad task. To ask that the families of those injured in the accident — regardless of which car they were driving — be given the space and love that they need to get them through this difficult and terrible ordeal.

On behalf of Transport Evolved’s editorial team and our readers, we’d like to say our thoughts are with the families of those involved.


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  • Albertico

    My car would catch on fire too if it was cut clean in half… nnWhat I’m more interested on is how the car was stolen in the first place. Hope the ones who stole it and caused the accident get some good jail time.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I’d posit that the keys were taken.

      • Joshua Burstyn

        Seems that way but I’m sure Tesla and the LAPD will let us know. I am worried that if this was a hack it’ll really be a big blow to TSLA stock.

      • D. Harrower


      • Haggy

        That would be a good guess if Tesla used keys.

    • MarcDaniel Erasmo

      Stolen from the new service center, the car was probably in for service.nThis might be the owner with a loaner car.

  • Dennis Pascual

    I was wondering the same thing. What makes sense to me is if the thief obtained the key fob first.

  • u010eakujem

    My heart sinks for those innocent people involved. If the driver of the stolen car survives, he should be publicly paraded for his crimes.

  • Ad van der Meer

    Most of the flames we see is of the interior burning and only partially the battery.nnI am sure Tesla eventually will be able to tell the exact speed this Model S was driving on the moment of impact.

    • Macka

      Wrong. That steady smoldering flame is acrylics and plastics.

  • offib

    I don’t want to be rude, but considering if Tesla can immediately tell if an owner wants to use Firefox on a Tesla Model S and warns him to stop, I’m surpried Tesla doens’t have the ability to limit power of a stolen, runaway car. Similar to the service that can reduce the speed of a stolen car that has OnStar.

    • Michael Thwaite

      The Roadster has a Valet mode that limits power, I’ve always thought I’d use that if my car was stolen – that and the GPS locator!nnnI imagine a whole host of privacy issues around police control of a vehicles speed…. I’m in the, I should be able to do that and I’d be ok with a trusted third-party being able to do that, camp. Only problem… who would that trusted third-party be?

    • Valet mode is a feature rumored to becoming with the v6 update. This incident happened within minutes of the car being stolen, so there may not have been enough time to activate any special feature to aid in limiting vehicle travel, or recovery.

    • Albert Bodenhamer

      Time from theft to crash was just a few minutes. It’s unlikely anyone at LAPD would know the car could be disabled and know who to call at Tesla to make it happen in that time.nnnDespite marketing from OnStar, etc it’s pretty rare for cops to disable a stolen vehicle mid chase. There’s too much going on and having a car shut down like that can pose its own risks if not handled properly.

  • D. Harrower

    A few objective-ish observations/questions:nn1) How was the car stolen? Fob pick-pocketing? Carjacking?n2) Still no deaths in a Model S (at the moment) despite some horrendous crashesn3) Many of these crashes seem to be super high-speed (100mph+). Is the Model S so safe people don’t even bother slowing down?n4) Tesla can’t claim the fire was isolated from the passenger compartment this time…

    • From early eye-witness reports u2026nn1. Model S stolen just minutes earliern2. “went from La Brea & Stocker to Fountain & La Brea in under 3 minutes”n3. was traveling 100+ MPH and ran red lightn4. rear 1/4 of Model S from back seat to bumper (and) motor ended embedded in concrete corner wall five feet (1.5 m) 1/2 block before front stopped.n5. drive thrown clear as car broke in two and impacted at least two more vehiclesnnnote: ripping motor and rear 1/3 off likely exposed some high voltage wiring that could have ignited interior fabric before emergency switches cut out.nnThis driver/thief just one of the many senseless fools that will have injured, or killed innocent people over the independence weekend. The is no independence from the laws of physics u2026 just wish the Darwinian-misfits don’t have to impact so many innocent lives. 🙁

    • Mike

      4) It’s not really a “compartment” anymore when it’s cut in half and isn’t really “compartmentalized” anymore.

    • Joe Viocoe

      Vlad short sold TSLA stock… and now is trying to profit

  • Art Van DeLay

    It can’t be good news for Tesla that none of the gasoline-powered cars caught fire, even though they were hit by a flaming 100-mph flying Tesla….

    • Capt601

      Physics does wonders when you study them. They also apply to Tesla’s and parked cars that are side swiped, or have half a car land on them.

  • Cassina Tarsia

    From what I read above it appears that the driver of the model S actually survived this accident … although this time his injuries are “critical”, from what was said. How many other cars would have allowed him to survive after such a horrendous accident? I doubt that there would have been any …

  • Albertico

    What deathtrap?

  • Albertico

    Huge fireball? Are we seeing the same videos and pictures? Looks like a normal fire and firecracker mini popping explosions from the small batteriesnnnLet’s see how your car handles going 100+ mph and being split in half.nnnGuess now cars need to be made impervious to damage, being split in half and catching fire from any and all situations to be considered safe… will never happen

  • MarcDaniel Erasmo

    You want to know what a fireball looks liken

  • WeaponZero

    The car was in for service, for all we know the car was being worked on and was not in the condition to drive in the first place. (Example, the screws were loosened to install something)nnI also don’t see a fireball or any hazmat teams on site. I also don’t see any fatalities.nnnSorry bud, it is as safe as it gets.

  • Joe Viocoe

    Vlad short sold TSLA stock… and now is trying to profit off this tragedy.

    • Bataleon

      You sound like a butthurt oil industry exec. Wipe those eyes, the future isn’t all about burning fossilized trees.

  • darelldd

    And cars carrying gallons of gasoline would have handled this situation better? Even the ones that catch on fire every day *without* being in a collision? So a Tesla driven by a madman who crashes into multiple cars and is bisected by a pole at some insane speed – is evidence that the car isn’t safe? Please tell us what car would have been “safe” in this situation? I guess I’ll never figure out why so many people wish the worst of Tesla, to the point of absurdity.nnThanks for pointing out that it “needed hazmat teams to extinguish.” You realize that gasoline is a hazmat as well, yes? See the video below for how convenient it is to put out a gasoline car that’s on fire. No special team needed there, right? Heck, a child could handle that project. Which is good, since gasoline vehicle fires as so common. There are about 430 vehicle fires per day in the US. Many of them happen without impact, high-speed or otherwise. What percentage of Teslas have burst into flame without a preceding high-speed impact? Goose egg, right?nnYou were kind to demonstrate how accurate Nikki was: “Over the coming few days, we can expect more from the u2018Teslas arenu2019t safeu2019 Internet meme,”

  • u010eakujem

    Doesn’t someone have to die for it to become a deathtrap? Rofl.

  • u010eakujem

    How many gas cars catch fire every minute?

  • Bataleon

    None of the other cars were traveling at 100 MPH+

  • Bataleon

    There’s a massive difference coming to a complete stop from 100 MPH compared to getting a side blow from an object which is moving at 100 MPH. Cleary the 4600 lb. Tesla had more energy to dissipate. Iu2019m surprised youu2019re even arguing this point, but whatever.

    • Macka

      Stop using physics on the troll, he doesn’t know what he’s on about. He’s just butthurt cause his group of anti-Tesla haters has shrunk over the last five years from 7000 to about 7. Hahaha.

  • u010eakujem

    You’re so easy to wind up. Its funny watching you. Rofl.

  • Capt601

    You do realize that water is the only thing needed? Of course you do. Nothing else needed. Training videos have been sent to fire crews to learn this basic concept.nnAnd I guess you didn’t realize oil, gas, and all of the other fluids in a gas car are hazmat? Of course you did.nnAnd let’s see a gas car split in half, gas tank explodes open, and leaks all over hot exhaust, hot brakes, hot gas burning engine, and we have a massive fireball that burns for a long time, not a small fireball like the tesla that is quite easy to out out in a few minutes. For example the drunk Mexican accident. Fire out out in about 15 seconds once fireman go to scene and actually just sprayed water. Of course you knew that.

  • Capt601

    Let’s see 4 is the count. Very sad you did not learn to count in stock short school.

  • Capt601

    Why did the tesla not catch on fire and the Toyota did in the tragic Palmdale accident last night? Guess you’re theory has been shot. The gas car blew up and caught fire killing 3. If they would have been in a tesla and they would be alive.

  • Bataleon

    Gasoline vehicles. Totally safe.nn

  • Haggy

    You mean a very low number. You need to distinguish between low and high. They have opposite meanings. The numbers are out there for vehicle fires. It’s not a matter of speculation but fact that Teslas have fewer fires, fewer injuries, and no deaths.