Tesla Crash Emails Show Elon Musk’s Empathy for His Grieving Father

Elon Musk emailed for weeks the father of a teenager who died in a violent Tesla crash and helped update a speed-limiting safety feature at the bereaved man’s request, according to the court records. Emails between the Tesla CEO and father spanning almost seven weeks four years ago offer rare insight into Musk’s personal involvement in customer relations surrounding a horrific accident.

Barrett Riley was driving her father’s Tesla Model S on May 8, 2018, when it lost control at 186 km/h and crashed into a concrete wall of a house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida . The car was engulfed in flames. Riley and his friend in the passenger seat were both killed.

About 24 hours later, Musk emailed the father, James Riley. The electric car maker’s CEO offered his condolences and asked Riley if he wanted to speak. “There is nothing worse than losing a child,” he wrote. James Riley replied that he would like to accept the offer, but then wrote again to say that he and his wife were not quite ready to talk.

“I understand,” Musk replied. “My eldest son died in my arms. I felt his last heartbeat,” he wrote, referring to his son Nevada Alexander Musk who died aged 10 weeks.

The email exchange is contained in a court filing this month in a wrongful death lawsuit involving another Tesla crash. The attorney in this case is trying to persuade a judge to order Musk to submit to questioning about Tesla’s Autopilot-assisted driving feature.

Emails with James Riley reveal a vulnerable and empathetic side of Musk, who has developed a reputation as a cheeky Silicon Valley executive whose tweets to his more than 73 million followers can shake Tesla’s stock price and often raise eyebrows.

Musk goes so far as to accommodate Riley’s request that the automaker modify a computerized feature to make it easier for parents to control the top speed a Tesla will go.

In June 2018, Tesla sent out a software update to its speed limit feature that would allow drivers to set the maximum speed between 50mph and 90mph via the car’s smartphone app or user interface via a code. Four-digit PIN. The owner’s manual language was updated to indicate that the feature was dedicated to the memory of Barrett Riley.

“I have never asked for recognition for anything in my life, but it would be nice to recognize that the loss of Barrett and Edgar has made others safer,” Riley wrote to Musk on May 31, 2018.

Two days prior, Musk had told Riley that Tesla “is doing everything we can to improve safety. My friends, family, and I all drive Teslas, and even if they didn’t, I would do whatever I can.

Nearly two years after the email exchange, Riley filed a product liability lawsuit against Tesla in federal court in Florida. The lithium-ion batteries in his Tesla vehicle “erupted in an uncontrollable and fatal fire” after the accident, according to the complaint. “Barrett Riley was killed by the battery fire, not the crash,” he said.

Riley asked Tesla two months before the crash to install a speed limiter in her car for her son’s safety, but it was removed without permission when the car was taken to Tesla for repair, the complaint says. .

But for Tesla’s negligence, the limiter would have prevented the accident and “Barrett Riley would be alive today,” according to the complaint.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

In its response to the lawsuit, Tesla denied that its battery was faulty designed. The company also said Barrett Riley himself returned to the service center “with concern about the vehicle’s acceleration performance” and requested that the speed limiter be removed.

The case is expected to go to trial this year.

The case is Riley v. Tesla Inc., 20-cv-60517, US District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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