A deadly single-car crash in Evergreen involving a Tesla is now part of a federal investigation that is looking into the safety of electric vehicles.
Denver7 Investigates confirmed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has collected data and information from the crash as part of its investigation.
The crash happened in the late evening of May 16 on Upper Bear Creek Road when the car went off the road and slammed into a tree. The car then caught fire.
A passenger made it out of the vehicle, but the driver, 33-year-old Hans von Ohain, died at the scene.
A report from Clear Creek County, who assisted on the call, notes that the passenger said the car was in its “auto drive” function. Radio communication from dashcam footage of the accident obtained by Denver7 Investigates backs up that report.
Questions still remain regarding if and how the auto drive function played a role in the crash and if the lithium ion batteries in the Tesla contributed to the intensity of the fire. Colorado State Patrol, who is leading the investigation, has yet to finalize its report from the crash but is working to answer those questions.
Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Rob Madden said the investigation will attempt to determine why the driver could not open his door, what his condition was after impact and how the electronics operated after the fire started.
“Those are all questions we may not have answers to,” he said.
Paul Shoemaker, a Castle Rock firefighter and paramedic, also owns Next Level Extrication, a company that trains emergency workers on how to save lives in car crashes.
Shoemaker provided training to the Evergreen Fire Protection District after this crash and said he believes the driver was awake and alert but was unable to open the door.
Shoemaker also studies post-crash fires in electric vehicles and other examples where drivers could not get out of the vehicle. He cited an accident in British Columbia where a driver kicked the window out of the driver-side door in a Tesla that had caught fire in the road.
“His reaction was to kick the window out,” he said. “He never opened the door.”
Shoemaker added that the driver probably would not have survived, otherwise.
While every vehicle is different, Shoemaker said all electric cars have a manual release to get out of the car when the electric systems fail. However, he estimates less than 1% of people know how to get out of the car in an emergency situation.
The same car can also have different ways to get out if a person is in the front seat or the back seat. Shoemaker suggests electric car vehicle owners look through their manuals to see how they can get out of the car should the electronics fail.
Earlier this year, published reports announced NHTSA was expanding its investigation into the auto drive function on several Tesla models, including the 2021 Model 3 involved in the Evergreen crash.
“They have all the information from this crash, and they are looking at this at their level,” Madden said.
He added that he does not know if the Tesla involved in the crash in Evergreen was being driven by the auto drive or auto pilot function. CSP is also investigating whether alcohol played a role in the crash.
The hope is that a complete report will be ready by the end of the year.
“This report is extremely complex, and that is what we owe to the family and to friends and to the public to give them answers,” Madden said.
NHTSA said it does comment on ongoing investigations. Tesla has not responded to multiple requests for comment.