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.
steve@dot.la

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

What Tesla's Trucking Feat Means for Natural Gas Vehicles in California

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What Tesla's Trucking Feat Means for Natural Gas Vehicles in California
Image from Tesla

Last month, when dot.LA toured the Hexagon Purus facility in Ontario, California, multiple employees bemoaned the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) ruling on renewable natural gas (RNG) as a hindrance to decarbonizing trucking-haul trucking. They argued that keeping RNG classified as a “near-zero emission” fuel prevented companies using financial incentives like the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project, which, as the name suggests, is only available to true zero-emission trucks. The effect, they said, was that the agency was missing an opportunity to accelerate the state’s transition away from diesel.

But over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce that the EV company’s battery powered class 8 semi-truck had completed a 500-mile trip fully loaded (to the tune of 81,000 lbs). It now appears CARB’s refusal to classify renewable natural gas (RNG) as a zero-emission fuel source was ultimately the right decision.

Read moreShow less

Hoopla’s Deron Quon on Keeping Perspective as a Founder

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Hoopla’s Deron Quon
Image courtesy of Deron Quon.

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, serial founder and angel investor Deron Quon discusses the human side of entrepreneurship and how a founder’s ethos can impact company culture.

Read moreShow less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending