Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks on deadly Mountain View crash for first time

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- For the first time since the Tesla crash in Mountain View that killed an Apple engineer, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is talking publicly about what happened.

His comments are not sitting well with victim Walter Huang's family. They feel the company has been unfairly blaming the victim and Friday, Musk doubled down.

EXCLUSIVE: Wife of man who died in Tesla crash gives emotional interview to I-Team

Exactly three weeks ago, Walter Huang headed to work in the Tesla Model X he bought himself for his 38th birthday. Set it on autopilot. Then, the SUV slammed into a collapsed safety barrier on 101 in Mountain View, killing him.

Friday, on CBS This Morning, Musk said the vehicle's Autopilot was not the problem. "The system worked as described, which is, it's a hands-on system. It is not a self-driving system."

The company warns drivers to remain alert and keep hands on the steering wheel while on Autopilot and Tesla released data saying Walter Huang had his hands off the wheel for six seconds before the crash.

But attorneys for Huang's family say they believe Tesla's Autopilot is defective.

"We believe that if this Autopilot had not been on, this accident would not have happened," said Huang family attorney Mark Fong.

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Walter Huang's widow told the ABC7 News I-Team that he complained that on several occasions that his SUV's Autopilot malfunctioned at that same location.

Dan Noyes: "He told you that the car would drive to that same barrier?"
Huang's wife Sevonne Huang: "Yes."
Dan: "The same barrier he finally hit?"
Sevonne: "Yeah, that's why I saw the news I knew that's him."

Sevonne Huang said she found out from watching the midday news that her husband had crashed -- she recognized the location, the barrier, and the blue SUV. Her attorney said it appears the Autopilot got confused.

"Its sensors misread the painted lane lines on the road, and it's braking system failed to detect a stationary object ahead," said Fong.

Even if Walter Huang failed to take control in time to avoid the crash, Musk did not address why the Autopilot wound up steering into that barrier.

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A 38-year-old man was killed when his Tesla crashed and caught on fire in Mountain View.

"It's important to emphasize it will never be perfect," Musk said of the Autopilot feature on CBS. "Nothing in the real world is perfect. But I do think that long-term it can reduce accidents by a factor of ten. So there are ten fewer fatalities and tragedies and serious injuries, and that's a really huge difference."

Musk defended releasing details of the crash even though because of that the NTSB removed the company from participating in the investigation that could take a year or more. Musk said,"That's way too long."

Read the full statement from Tesla: "Last week, in a conversation with the NTSB, we were told that if we made additional statements before their 12-24 month investigative process is complete, we would no longer be a party to the investigation agreement. On Tuesday, we chose to withdraw from the agreement and issued a statement to correct misleading claims that had been made about Autopilot - claims which made it seem as though Autopilot creates safety problems when the opposite is true. In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident and this continues to improve.

It's been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they're more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety. Among other things, they repeatedly released partial bits of incomplete information to the media in violation of their own rules, at the same time that they were trying to prevent us from telling all the facts. We don't believe this is right and we will be making an official complaint to Congress. We will also be issuing a Freedom Of Information Act request to understand the reasoning behind their focus on the safest cars in America while they ignore the cars that are the least safe. Perhaps there is a sound rationale for this, but we cannot imagine what that could possibly be.

Something the public may not be aware of is that the NTSB is not a regulatory body, it is an advisory body. The regulatory body for the automotive industry in the US is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with whom we have a strong and positive relationship. After doing a comprehensive study, NHTSA found that even the early version of Tesla Autopilot resulted in 40% fewer crashes. Autopilot has improved substantially since then.
When tested by NHTSA, Model S and Model X each received five stars not only overall but in every sub-category. This was the only time an SUV had ever scored that well. Moreover, of all the cars that NHTSA has ever tested, Model S and Model X scored as the two cars with the lowest probability of injury. There is no company that cares more about safety and the evidence speaks for itself."

Read the full statement from Huang's family: "Tesla's comments blaming the victim for the crash were both insensitive and inaccurate. Tesla's claim today that it "withdrew" from the NTSB probe into the crash was likewise inaccurate. The rift between the NTSB and Tesla shows Tesla appears to be more concerned about blaming Mr. Huang and less interested in the safety of drivers using its Autopilot system."

Read the full press release from the Huang family lawyer: The family of Walter Huang, who died March 23, 2018, in a Tesla car crash, has hired the Minami Tamaki LLP law firm to explore legal options for them.

Huang died from fatal injuries suffered when the "Autopilot" of his 2017 Tesla Model X drove his car into the unprotected edge of a concrete highway median that was missing its crash guard.

The firm's preliminary review has uncovered complaints by other Tesla drivers of navigational errors by the Autopilot feature, and other lawsuits have also made this complaint. The firm believes Tesla's Autopilot feature is defective and likely caused Huang's death, despite Tesla's apparent attempt to blame the victim of this terrible tragedy.

The Huang family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla and, possibly, its subcontractors involved in the design and construction of the Autopilot system. The grounds for the suit may include product liability, defective product design, failure to warn, breach of warranty, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, and false advertising. The family may also file a lawsuit against the California Department of Transportation for dangerous condition of public property.
"Mrs. Huang lost her husband, and two children lost their father," said B. Mark Fong, a partner at Minami Tamaki LLP. "The family wants to investigate this incident and help ensure that this tragedy does not happen to other consumers who buy semi-autonomous vehicles. Our goal as the family's attorneys is to protect public safety, by ensuring the technology behind semi-autonomous cars is safe before it is released on the roads, and its risks are not misrepresented to the public."

Minami Tamaki's preliminary review indicates that the navigation system of the Tesla may have misread the lane lines on the roadway, failed to detect the concrete median, failed to brake the car, and drove the car into the median. In addition, the concrete highway median was missing its crash attenuator guard, as Caltrans failed to replace the guard after an earlier crash there. The lack of a guard potentially increased Huang's injuries.

Huang is survived by his wife of ten years, Sevonne, and their son and daughter, ages 3 and 6. He was a loving father to his children, a devoted husband, and a dedicated son who supported his elderly parents financially.

If you or someone you know has information relating to Tesla's Autopilot or the incident involving Walter Huang, please contact attorney B. Mark Fong at markfong@minamitamaki.net or at 415-851-1497.

Click here for full coverage on the Tesla crash by ABC7 News and the I-Team.

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