‘No one was driving the car’: 2 men dead after fiery Tesla crash near The Woodlands, officials say

Memorial Hermann doctor killed in Tesla crash
Memorial Hermann doctor killed in Tesla crash

HOUSTON – A Memorial Hermann doctor has been identified as one of two men killed when the Tesla they were in crashed into a tree. The accident has made national headlines because local officials investigating the accident say no one was driving the vehicle.

The crash happened at 11:25 p.m. Saturday in the Carlton Woods subdivision near The Woodlands. The car burst into flames after hitting a tree near 18 Hammock Dunes Place.

Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told KPRC 2 that the investigation showed “no one was driving” the fully electric 2019 Tesla when the accident happened. There was a person in the passenger seat of the front of the car and in the rear passenger seat of the car.

One of those men has now been identified as Dr. William Varner, a member of the Memorial Hermann medical system.

Memorial Hermann doctor killed in Tesla crash
Memorial Hermann doctor killed in Tesla crash
The charred wreckage of a crash involving a self-driving Tesla vehicle is seen on April 17, 2021. (KPRC)

Constable Herman said authorities believe no one else was in the car and that it burst into flames immediately. He said he believes it wasn’t being driven by a human.

Harris County Constable Precinct 4 deputies said the vehicle was traveling at a high speed when it failed to negotiate a cul-de-sac turn, ran off the road and hit the tree.

KPRC 2 reporter Deven Clarke spoke to one man’s brother-in-law who said he was taking the car out for a spin with his best friend, so there were just two in the vehicle.

The owner, he said, backed out of the driveway, and then may have hopped in the back seat only to crash a few hundred yards down the road. He said the owner was found in the back seat upright.

The charred wreckage of a crash involving a self-driving Tesla vehicle is seen on April 17, 2021. (KPRC)

The brother-in-law of one of the victims said relatives watched the car burn for four hours as authorities tried to tap out the flames.

Authorities said they used 32,000 gallons of water to extinguish the flames because the vehicle’s batteries kept reigniting. At one point, Herman said, deputies had to call Tesla to ask them how to put out the fire in the battery.

Authorities will perform autopsies on both men.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent KPRC 2 the following statement:

“NHTSA is aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas. NHTSA has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information.”

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, tweeted about the crash on Monday, saying that data logs recovered showed that autopilot was not enabled and the car did not purchase FSD.

On Monday night, Memorial Hermann issued the following statement regarding the loss of Dr. Varner in this accident.


About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.