First Owner Fatality Confirmed In Tesla Model S


Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Tuesday morning, a Tesla Model S drove off a cliff on Highway 1 in Sonoma County, California.

The driver, identified only as a male in his 60s, was later confirmed dead.

The California Highway Patrol responded to the incident. CHP reports that there were no witnesses, but says that a passerby alerted the police to the car at the bottom of a cliff.

While a single traffic fatality is not newsworthy perhaps of itself and our condolences go out to the family involved with this accident, this does end Tesla’s often promoted, long run of “no serious injuries” to any Model S owner.

No additional details are available at this time.

Google Earth Image Of Approximate Location Of Incident

Google Earth Image Of Approximate Location Of Incident

Source: SF Gate

Category: Tesla


88 responses to "First Owner Fatality Confirmed In Tesla Model S"
  1. no comment says:

    there is an extent to which i find these kinds of article postings to be ridiculous. no automobile maker, including tesla, can be responsible for what drivers do with their cars after the driver takes possession. unless you have information that the tesla contributed to this accident, then all you have is a story about a driver who had an accident, which is no more significant than any other auto accident story.

    what i am suggesting is that in the future you should wait until you have some information that the car was a contributing factor in the accident rather than just posting the fact that someone had an accident. by that same rationale, if someone has an accident and some characteristic of the EV prevented harm to the occupants, then that would be useful information. but the point here is: establish some connection between the EV and the incident to give the story some informative value.

    1. Jay Cole says:

      I think the story is of note only because Tesla’s CEO himself has multiple times pointed to no “serious permanent injury” having occurred to any Model S owner in the past on Tesla’s website and in interviews.

      This accident (being a cliff) has no reflection specifically at all as to the safety (or lack thereof) of the Model S itself – which is unbelievable safe, it is only a story because of the oft-repeated statement generated by Tesla themselves – which no longer applies.

      1. Alonso Perez says:

        Yup, exactly. I did not think it was a good idea to say that at the time. I understand it is the kind of thing an engineer would say, and a listening engineer would understand the limitations of the statement.

        But in the media that kind of thing tends to come back to bite you.

      2. Waiting says:

        Of course Tesla’s claim still applies!!!! The drove the damn car off a clif. How in heavens name does that have anything to do with the type of car he was driving. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that Tesla’s claim to safety applies to every day vehicular travel on ROADS, not going over a clif. Geez!!!

        1. Alonso Perez says:

          Well we don’t know why he drove off a cliff. If the steering broke or a wheel flew off, then the car is relevant.

          My best guess would be that he was going faster than he could manage, but we don’t know what we don’t know.

          1. no comment says:

            of course, if the accident were due to a mechanical defect in the car, then this would be an informative article. my criticism of the article is that there is no apparent attempt to determine whether the car contributed to the accident. if you post an article about a tesla being in an accident (as opposed to saying that joe blow was in an accident), people are going to associate the accident with tesla. that’s just the way that stuff works.

            my criticism of this article is that it unfairly casts innuendo toward tesla even if the writer didn’t intend such.

            1. Robert says:

              That isn’t how I read it. I read the facts. Tesla had made a statement.
              That statement is no longer valid.
              I’ll wait for Quincy’s report which will no doubt say that the cause of death was something unexpected, like self defence…

          2. Spec9 says:

            Who knows. He was 65. He could have had a sudden heart attack or stroke such that he went unconscious such that the car just drove straight off the cliff.

            1. See Through says:

              Wow! This article has set the a**es of fanboys on fire! This article makes total sense, as Mr. Musk has been boasting of ‘no injuries to Tesla drivers’, and also mentioned ‘driving off the cliff’ in the shareholder meeting. And Tesla doesn’t even count the several deaths their cars caused to passengers in other vehicles.

              Yes, fanbois! It is always the driver’s fault when there is a solo accident. Einsteins!
              May be the car is too wide for the mountainous hwy 1, especially for senior citizens who think they need to spend their money on some shiny toy and try out the mind boggling accelerations at random places.

              1. Foo says:

                Yup, we’re all fanbois because we’d prefer a news story about WHY the accident occurred instead of just THAT it occurred.

                1. Big Solar says:

                  See Through is French for Please Ignore.

              2. Spec9 says:

                So speculating that a 65 year old person may have had a heart attack or a stroke that contributed to a crash makes me a ‘fanboi’?

                How so? The very same statement would apply to a gasoline car that drives off a cliff.

                You, on the other hand, are a weird troll. Your irrational hatred is pretty funny and leads you to say nonsensical things.

                1. John F says:

                  I was also thinking a heart attack or stroke killed him first, and then the car took him over the cliff. In a one car accident like this, it makes sense. If he just fell asleep at the wheel, he would probably survive with the protection of the restraining systems.

                2. Nick says:

                  The hatred isn’t completely irrational.

                  See through has short position in Tesla, so he wants the stock to fall.

              3. Get Real says:

                Keep rejoicing See Through. All I can say on this New Years is that the world needs less pathetic haters like you.

      3. MrEnergyCzar says:

        I guess that leaves the Volt without any deaths yet… hard to believe..

        1. David Murray says:

          What about the Leaf? or i3?

          1. Big Solar says:

            I know of at least one Leaf death. I think a tre fell on the guy while he was driving.

            1. Robert says:

              That’s a bit ironic don’t you think?
              A tree falls on a leaf…

              1. Spec9 says:

                Would anyone hear it?

                1. Ziv says:

                  Unfortunately, the driver heard it loud and clear.

        2. Mint says:

          You sure? US average is about 7 per billion km:

        3. Ziv says:

          MEC, I think a GM spokesman mentioned no Volt fatalities as recently as May, but I am not entirely certain of the exact date. The Volt safety record is pretty amazing.
          Still irritated by the A pillar, even if it might save my life…

      4. no comment says:

        if you were to directly ask musk about this claim, i am sure that he would tell you that there had be no serious injury due to the car. as you recall, there was an issue about the underside of the Model S being susceptible to damage from road debris. of course, musk would have told you that he can make no statement about injury due to potential negligence by the driver: no automaker can make such a statement. if an investigation turns out that the accident is due to driver negligence, nobody (other than this blog, apparently) would even think to attempt to link this accident to tesla.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          I suspect all manufacturers of a particular model would say their car has caused no deaths, other than those vehicles that have been legally implicated as such.

          The Model S, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF had been on a very statistically unlikely run of no fatalities to their owners (for any reason) over many hundreds of millions of mile. Tesla has made note to publically give out this statistic frequently, which is why this story appears here now.

          For example at a shareholder meeting earlier this year Musk pointed out that after 344 million miles the car had yet to record a single “serious permanent injury” or death, while adding “That is certainly one of our proudest accomplishment.

          It wasn’t/isn’t an issue of ‘fault’ of the car, or of any particular accident circumstance. If Tesla hadn’t made this into such a big talking point, I doubt such an innocuous story would have ever made it here.

        2. See Through says:

          No, no comment. Check the video of last annual shareholder meeting. Mr. Musk was grinning ear to ear when describing how they say not to drive off the cliff, still some did and was okay. Not to mention, that Tesla doesn’t count the lives lost to people in other cars or pedestrians killed by the excessively heavy Tesla cars. In fact, you will say it was their fault to not be driving in a $100K car and be hit by the heavy and recklessy driven Tesla cars.

          1. Jouni Valkonen says:

            One of Tesla’s competitor Mercedes S550 is even heavier than Model S. The thing is that large luxury cars tend to be heavy AND safe for their passengers. That is one reason why über-rich are buying large full-size luxury cars.

            1. Spec9 says:

              And a nice thing about the Tesla is that there is no ICE under the hood to intrude into the passenger space as the crush space is squashed. The crush space is empty except for what you put in the frunk.

          2. Mint says:

            Do you think a 4000lb car is measurably less likely to kill a man than a 4800lb car?

            Have you not seen the adaptive hood on Teslas?

          3. Robert says:

            Last time I checked, in ‘person VS car’, even the lightest of mini hatchbacks can kill the pillock who steps into the road!
            The weight of the car has little bearing in the result.
            It is mainly down to the speed of impact.
            I would have thought THAT fact was obvious to the dimmest of people!

    2. Jouni Valkonen says:

      You got it wrong. The point was that this was first fatality for Tesla. It was inevitable that it will happen in some point, but this one was the first. Tesla had huge track record for saving their passengers, but this was the end of flawless record. Now the rest is just statistics and we see if this was random unlucky incident or can we soon start comparing statistics to other car models. I think that we need still to wait more data that we can declare Tesla as the safest car on roads. Of course P85D may make this a little bit more difficult with its “insane” driving mode!

      Ps. there was earlier one death associated to car theft were the thief died after high speed pursuit and subsequent collision. Therefore this article referred to car owner.

      1. Foo says:

        Yes, but the statistic of “one person died when their car drove off a cliff” is pretty meaningless. The outcome would likely be the same regardless of the make of the car.

        So, while this story may be “of note”, the reporting of it is mostly sensationalistic. The first story where a Tesla driver is killed as the result of a more “typical” auto accident will be much more newsworthy.

      2. koz says:

        Model S has plenty of miles driven as a fleet to draw meaningful statistical tendencies about safety. It doesn’t require a high number of deaths.

        1. Jouni Valkonen says:

          the problem is that the upper limit is still unknown. We have two fatalities that both happened in very severe conditions and we do not really know if they were representative conditions that reflected anyway the actual safety of the car. We need more data to make more exact estimations.

          You just cannot make statistical conclusion fron N = 0, N = 1 or N = 2. We need at least 20 fatalities before we can make reasonably accurate estimations on the safety of the car.

          This was also problem with Tesla’s fire incidents, when Tesla made just absurd conclusions on the probability of fire incident from the sample size of 2! In real world they were just freak accidents, and actual probability for battery fire was much lower than what Tesla claimed.

          1. koz says:

            No, you don’t. There are N cars driven N miles with N accidents and 2 known fatalities. If the objective is to statically quantify the type of Model S accident that leads to a fatality, then you would be correct. There is plenty of data to speak to the relative safety of the car with regards to injuries or fatalities.

      3. Edward Arthur says:

        This was the second, wasn’t the car thief the first?

        1. Foo says:

          He wasn’t the owner.

  2. Anon says:

    Cliffs seem to be killing EV folks left and right. Just look at the Segway as another example. Lets just ban cliffs. 😉

    1. Lustuccc says:

      I always doubted that this accident of the CEO of Segway was masked as an accident. SegWay was a competitor of fossil fuel transportation, like busses and tramways… I always keep a little doubt in those circumstances.

      And maybe the guy committed suicide with his Tesla, this is not funny at all.

      1. See Through says:

        Yeah, I see a conspiracy theory brewing here. Putting on my Tesla troll hat 🙂 .now.
        Some oil industry thugs killed the old gentleman, put him in his Tesla and pushed it off the cliff. There.. problem solved.
        I will send it to Mr. Musk for re-tweeting.

        1. Decent Forensic Medical Examination – at the basic level of Murdoch Mysteries could figure out if he died before the impacts or after – due to: was his heart pumping blood when all hell broke loose, or not! If not – why not? – What he dead due to a heart attack already before he even went off the cliff, or did h died of some lethal injection 20 minutes before he went off the cliff? Did they find the throttle pedal tied to the old mans foot, or a brick at the scene of the accident – that would otherwise not be there – at the bottom of a cliff – no where near a construction site? (A Brick – that could have mashed the throttle down! – Etc.)

          The man that died – did he have any significance in his life – as to how he earned the money for the car (I am sure he was not a ditch digger or low level blue collar worker, unless he had a good streak in Tesla or some other shares which helped him buy his new baby)! Etc. Etc.

          Way to early to understand – not just that he died in a car that happened to be a Tesla Model S – but – How did he die, and when did he die, in relation to the exiting the road!

          Airplane pilots die when the hit the ground too – if they don’t get out of the plane and hit the silk in time!

          It’s not the 500′ fall that get’s you (unless you have a heart attack at that point from the fear!) – but the sudden impact at the end that does you in, usually! Even a drunk – totally relaxed, is a bit unlikely to make it through that kind of impact!

    2. GSP says:

      Installing guard rails on said cliffs may not be a bad idea. Better than just saying “accidents happen” and accepting more deaths in the future. (or “banning cliffs”)


    3. Robert says:

      Just ban cliffs…HA HA HA HA HA HA HA AHA!

  3. Mike says:

    pretty sure there is no crash rating for “dropping off a cliff”

    1. Mike the – “pretty sure there is no crash rating for “dropping off a cliff”” needs qualification as well – as in – At what speed, in what weather, and how far, to what kind of impact landing zone: Rocks Sand, Ocean, etc.!

      With enough speed – you might make the Ocean, but – with falling enough height, and the resultant vertical acceleration vector – the ocean’s surface is like concrete – due to Skin or Surface Tension on water!

      We Worked a Bridge repair some 160 feet over a River, and we tossed full bags of hard cement over the edge and watched them hit, no driving – only a hand toss over the edge, you could have heard the impact a mile or more away! It was like a Canon Shot! The Bag separated from the hard cement – and floated back up to the surface in under a minute!

      Lots of variables in ‘Over the Cliff Crash Worthiness Certification’ – and it would take a lot more cars to do the tests well!

  4. Tim F. says:

    My condolences to his friends and family. It’s a somber milestone that was bound to happen eventually.

    I don’t see any accusations that the car was to blame for driving off the cliff, nor was it the car’s fault for not protecting him. Occupants in any car would have suffered the same fate. This is simply reporting what has occurred, and that the law of averages has caught up with Tesla.

    1. Foo says:

      Of course not, the story was published too quickly for that.

    2. Alonso Perez says:

      It would be interesting to know why he drove of the cliff. Going too fast? Distracted? By what?

      Also, did the car catch fire from battery breach? What does the wreck look like?

      I am by no means saying any of these things would render the Model S an unsafe car. On the contrary I think it’s incredibly safe, possibly the safest car that can be bought today.

      Still, I’m curious, precisely because the car is so unique and has such structural integrity, and because so much data is recorded on it. I’d like to know how it responded to such an extreme circumstance. The forensics of the event, in other words, might yield a nugget or two of interesting information.

  5. Bro1999 says:

    Volt still fatality free!

    1. Bro1999 says:

      But seriously, condolences to the owner’s family.

    2. EV says:

      Driving the Volt is a fatality!

  6. Nelson says:

    Not intending to make light of the loss of life, but it would be interesting to rule out foul play and confirm cause of death was impact from dropping off cliff.

    NPNS! SBF!

  7. pjwood says:

    One story has the car a 2014. Though this may not be the first, I’d give P85D wreckage a matter of weeks, not months. Somebody’s going to find too much speed, in too small a space.

    1. John in AA says:

      I’m not particularly convinced — the P85 was already plenty fast enough to get into trouble — but time will tell. And not much time either, just “a matter of weeks”.

    2. Brian Henderson says:

      Note: P85D have collision avoidance and breaking thanks to sensor package that detects solid objects.

      Perhaps like iRobot Rumba, the Model S needs cliff detection sensors too? (stairs and cliffs pose similar hazards) If not a cliff, what about a pool, or ocean?

      Also missing are sensors to detect if driver nods off to sleep while driving, or medical condition

      Doesn’t matter how much technology, there is a level of skill and alertness required to manually drive a vehicle.

  8. Bro1999 says:

    Driver could have suffered a heart attack prior….who knows.

    But I think regardless, Elon is done harping about fatality free Model S.

  9. Scramjett says:

    Do you have the specific location of the incident (I hesitate to call it a “crash”)? I have driven Hwy 1 in Sonoma fairly often and there are stretches that are quiet treacherous. If you don’t know how to handle curves (especially the type of curves this road has) you can easily loose control and end up going over the many sheer drops along Hwy 1.

    1. no comment says:

      some of the most treacherous stretches on highway 1 in california are also some of the most beautiful. this kind of accident could have happened to anyone, in any car. my guess is that the guy got engrossed in the scenery and took his mind off the road.

      1. Scramjett says:

        You are certainly right about the scenery. That’s why it is my favorite place (next to Yosemite) in all of California.

        I have encountered many drivers both there and in the Sierra’s that clearly do not know how to handle roads with curves. I usually have to back way off from them so I can take them properly.

        There is no way to know for certain but either case is possible. I also wonder if he is a local. Sometimes locals get a little carried away on roads like that.

  10. koz says:

    “No Tesla not stolen or driven off of cliffs has been involved in an accident that has resulted in a driver or passenger death”

    /there, fixed that for Elon’s next comment on the subject


  11. GRA says:

    Via foxla: “JENNER, Calif. (BCN) — The Sonoma County coroner’s office has identified a driver of a Tesla found at the bottom of a cliff along state Highway 1 near Jenner on Tuesday morning as 65-year-old San Rafael resident Louis Francis Thoelecke.”

    1. Scramjett says:

      Huh, that’s actually not the stretch of highway 1 I was thinking of. Still, you can see pretty clearly from Google Street View how narrow the road is. One wrong move and you would be over the cliff for sure.

  12. EVadopter says:

    I would like to point out that the driver might have lived if the car would have exploded and burned like a normal car does when it goes over a cliff.

    There were no witnesses to the accident so no one knew there was a wrecked car at the bottom of the cliff.

    But if the Tesla were on fire, people would have seen the smoke and called 911.

    I would suggest that Tesla should incorporate smoke grenades which automatically ignite when the airbags deploy since Tesla’s do not burn.

    1. Foo says:

      “I would like to point out that the driver might have lived if the car would have exploded and burned like a normal car does when it goes over a cliff.”

      Um… I think you’ve seen too many TV shows and movies. Hollywood gasoline cars (always) explode at the slightest impact, and especially when going off a cliff. But, real cars do not. Car manufacturers do everything they can to keep them from “exploding”, even in the most violent of accidents.

      Now, it is true that the car might have eventually caught on fire and, you’re correct, somebody may have noticed in that case. But, the chances the guy would have lived (if he wasn’t killed on impact, or perhaps had already suffered a heart-attack which caused the wreck) is anybody’s guess.

      1. Ziv says:

        I saw a 1970’something Ford Pinto spin one and half times and slam backwards into a telephone pole. If ever there was a car that should have exploded, it was that Pinto. Gasoline flew out of it like… Like a water balloon hitting a mile marker. It is amazing how much better cars have gotten in 40 years.

  13. Spec9 says:

    Sorry to hear it. Condolences to the family.

    But what a nice way to go . . . cruising down highway 1 in a Tesla. When my time comes, I wouldn’t mind having that death. Not too bad except the few seconds of terrifying freefall.

  14. Spec9 says:

    There is some quote from Elon Musk where he is talking about the safety of the Model S and he says they are proud of their safety record. He said they strive to have no deaths in a Model S but it is inevitable that ~”someone drive one off a cliff”. (That is paraphrasing by my memory.)

    ell, it looks like it finally happened.

  15. Anon says:

    Fear not. For Autopilot will include Cliff Alert & Avoidance in a future firmware update.

    1. Someone out there says:

      and an automatic parachute deployment

      1. Anon says:

        Um, you’re confusing Dragon 2.0 and it’s ability to choose traditional chutes or the landing thrusters, depending on motor status during atmospheric re-entry.

    1. Jouni Valkonen says:

      I think that Tesla prefers to control propulsively the descent over parachutes. Similar what the Future Dragon spacecraft is aiming for. Parachutes belong to Apollo era and propulsive landing is the thing of tomorrow.

      Look forward to the next Falcon 9 launch in early January as SpaceX will try to land Falcon 9 first stage propulsively on a floating barge.

      1. Anon says:


        Either it lands perfectly the first time, or it crashes in a spectacular fashion. No matter how it comes back down– it will be A W E S O M E.

  16. Mart says:

    “CHP Officer Jon Sloat said they’re still investigating the circumstances surrounding both crashes. However, he said it’s possible the crashes weren’t accidental and could have been suicides. “Both of these lean toward intentional,” Sloat said Tuesday.”

    1. Anon says:

      Your method of suicide, sir?

      “Death by Tesla…”

    2. Scramjett says:

      Interesting. It would make sense. After looking at it on Google Street View, that area is not particularly dangerous. There are plenty of stretches that are far more treacherous then that stretch.

    3. Robert says:

      It isn’t a method I’d choose. I’d want a 100% chance of death!
      Not having seen the cliff in question, I wouldn’t choose that method, and WHY choose a brand new car with up to date safety features?
      Hanging is the way I’d go. If I was suicidal.
      Which I’m not.
      I’m not even depressed at the thought of having to go back to work on Monday after two weeks off.
      Actually I am a bit depressed at that thought now I’ve thought about it…

      1. Spec9 says:

        There are some cliffs on Highway 1 that are pretty much 100% fatal.

    4. Priusmaniac says:

      Obviously not five stars for the off cliff crash test, but one should notice that the battery didn’t burn.

  17. reguest says:

    Surprised, I am. But I am not.

    The first fatality not related to extreme circumstances was bound to happen eventually.

    At the very least, Tesla can no longer talk about their incredible safety record. But at the same time, the car fell off a cliff. This is understandable, why the person died.

    I await more news on the subject. Please, someone, provide some.

  18. Miggy says:

    Whatever happened, my condolences go out to the family and friends of the driver.

  19. Martin T says:

    Could have been a health condition, lets face it typical American over loaded sugar laced diet would be right up the list of causes vs remote chance of mechanical failure.

    Place your bets

  20. Bill Howland says:

    Has anyone ever died in a Tesla ROadster yet?

  21. ELROY says:

    Interesting how the photo of the wreckage shows a slope that you could basically walk up. I am assuming there was a very steep drop off at the top? Unless he really did take an intentional top speed launch off of the top of the mountain.

  22. Steven says:

    Not being familiar with that road, I’m simply curious about the statistical breakdown on how many people died on that stretch of road, their ages, and the types of vehicles involved, and the time of day of the incidents.

  23. Johnmb says:

    I wish more auto CEOs took as much concern about fatalities suffered in there cars. I think we would see much less loss of life and much more responsibility for safety in our using their products.

    I can only imagine that Musk is sincerely concerned and I’m curious to see his reaction to this sad accident.