Feds Investigate Tesla Crash that Killed Retired California Couple

Steve Huff
Steve Huff is an Editor and Reporter at dot.LA. Steve was previously managing editor for The Metaverse Post and before that deputy digital editor for Maxim magazine. He has written for Inside Hook, Observer and New York Mag. Steve is the author of two official tie-ins books for AMC’s hit “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul.” He’s also a classically-trained tenor and has performed with opera companies and orchestras all over the Eastern U.S. He lives in the greater Boston metro area with his wife, educator Dr. Dana Huff.
Interior view of Tesla car

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Lompoc, CA retirees Mary Lou Seelandt, 66, and her husband, Karl Seelandt, 67. The couple died July 6 at a Florida rest stop after their 2015 Tesla plowed into the rear of a parked semi.


Based on the Florida Highway Patrol’s report on the crash, the couple was driving south around 2 p.m. on Interstate 75 when they exited at a rest stop. The exit lane forked, with cars directed one way and trucks the other. The Seelandt’s Tesla swerved in the wrong direction, toward the trucks — where it rammed into a parked trailer. The couple was killed at the scene.

Investigators told local media they weren’t certain that the Tesla’s autopilot was engaged when the vehicle struck the semi, but on July 13 the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Seelandt family had retained the services of Morgan & Morgan, which touts itself as “America’s largest injury law firm.” The firm also has a page dedicated entirely to Tesla Self-Driving Car Accidents, which says in part that “self-driving Teslas have been involved in several deadly accidents over the past few years, raising questions about Autopilot’s safety, Tesla’s marketing language, and the discrepancy between the two.”

Attorneys Mike Morgan and Josh Moore told the Sentinel that they are “in the very early stages of our investigation to determine what caused this deadly collision and have requested Tesla preserve all evidence related to this matter.”

In June this year, the NHTSA published a report on its “Standing General Order on Crash Reporting for Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.” This order, issued in June 2021, required “identified manufacturers and operators … to report to the agency certain crashes involving vehicles equipped with SAE Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).”

According to the NHTSA, 367 crashes occurred between July 2021 and May this year in vehicles equipped with some form of autopilot software. During that period, California had more than any other state — 125. The top carmakers on this unfortunate list were Tesla, with 273 crashes, then Honda and Subaru, respectively. Fortunately, most injuries from these crashes were minor, though there were five recorded serious injuries and six recorded deaths.

California-based EV maker Lucid Motors only listed one autopilot-related accident, and Irvine’s Rivian wasn’t on the list at all.

The United States averages around 6 million car crashes a year, so 367 possibly autopilot-related wrecks seem vanishingly small by comparison. But as companies continue testing self-driving vehicles on California roads, precision and predictability seem more important than ever. dot.la has reached out to the NHTSA for further comment on the agency's investigations and will update once we receive a response.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Inflation Reduction Act Officially Passes the Senate, Revamping Electric Vehicle Pricing

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

The Capitol at Sunset
Courtesy of Mike Stoll via Unsplash

Over the weekend Senate Democrats officially passed the Inflation Reduction Act in what amounts to President Biden’s biggest legislative win so far. The bill includes a host of broad-spectrum economic policy changes and completely reworks the subsidies for electric vehicle purchases. The law still has to get through the House, but this should be a much smaller hurdle.

dot.LA covered the bill in depth as it neared the goal line at the end of July, and the final iteration doesn’t change much. To recap:

1. The rebate total stays $7,500 but is broken into two $3,750 chunks tied to how much of the car and its battery are made in the US.

2. The manufacturer caps are eliminated, meaning even EV companies that have sold more than 20,000 vehicles are once again eligible.

3. Rebates will now only apply to cars priced below $55,000 and trucks/SUVs below $80,000

With the new system placing a renewed emphasis on American manufacturing and assembly, the calculus of which vehicles cost how much is still being worked out. The most comprehensive (but unofficial!) list I’ve seen has come from Reddit user u/Mad691.

In addition to the EV rebate program, the bill also includes a number of economic incentives aimed at curbing emissions and accelerating the country’s transition to electric vehicles.

There’s $20 billion earmarked for the construction of new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities and $3 billion will go help electrify the USPS delivery fleet. Another $3 billion will go to electrifying the nation’s ports. Then there’s $1 billion for zero-emission trucks and buses.

Now that the bill is about to be codified into law, VC investment in the sector might heat up in response to the new money flowing in.

“I do anticipate more climate funds standing up to invest in EV infrastructure,” says Taj Ahmad Eldridge, a partner at Include Ventures and the director at CREST an ARES Foundation initiative with JFF/WRI that aims to provide training for people in the new green economy. “However, we do see funds being a little more thoughtful on diligence and taking their time to fund the right investment.”

The sentiment seems to be shared across Southern California. ChargeNet CEO and Co-Founder Tosh Dutt says the Inflation Reduction Act “super charges” the company’s effort to build infrastructure across the country.

“This investment accelerates the transition to renewable energy and gives companies like ChargeNet Stations the confidence to expand more rapidly, especially in underserved communities,” says Dutt.

For Rivian, the bill’s passage has left would-be customers in a sort of limbo. Because many of their models will exceed the $80,000 cap for trucks and SUVs after options, customers who’ve preordered are scrambling to sign buyers’ agreements to take advantage of the current EV rebate scheme which doesn’t include price caps. As I noted in the previous article, if you buy an EV before the bill is signed, you’re eligible for the current rebate system even if the vehicle isn’t delivered until 2023. Any existing contracts under the current system will remain valid.

With the legislation seemingly on the fast track to become law, it’s unclear whether or not Rivian will expedite the purchasing process to allow customers to sign the buyers’ agreement before the new rebate program becomes the law of the land. Tick tock!

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