Tesla explosion, fire were factors in crash deaths


IMPD Sgt Doug Heustis and Det. Darla “Red” Anderson continues to look at Tesla wreckage for answers. Matt Kryger/IndyStar


INDIANAPOLIS — The fire that engulfed a Tesla electric car after a crash was a factor in the death of its drunk driver and passenger last November, police investigators say.

The driver, Casey Speckman, 27, and passenger Kevin McCarthy, 44, were killed when McCarthy’s 2015 Model S crashed into a tree and parking garage then exploded on Indianapolis’ north side shortly after 1 a.m. Nov. 3.

The vehicle caught fire and burned quickly. Firefighters arrived to find a 150-yard debris field and battery cells exploding like Roman candles.

The blood-alcohol level for Casey Speckman tested at 0.21%, according to investigators and an accident report released last Friday. The legal limit in Indiana at which a driver is presumed intoxicated is 0.08%.

The only passenger and the owner of the Tesla, Kevin McCarthy, had a blood-alcohol level that tested at 0.17%, investigators said.

One witness told police he was driving slowly past when the Tesla exploded.

“Parts of the vehicle blew into the air,” the witness told investigators. “He accelerated to keep the vehicle parts from hitting his vehicle.”

McCarthy died of burns and smoke inhalation, according to investigators.

Speckman, investigators said, died of crash-related injuries. The fire was a contributing factor.

The luxury electric sports car is powered by a 1,200-pound battery pack made up of several thousand small lithium batteries. The force of the crash broke apart the Tesla’s battery.

Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Jones said rescue efforts were hampered by the exploding battery cells.

“Some of those smaller cells that had broken apart were firing off almost like projectiles around the rescuers,” Jones told reporters hours after the crash.

Firefighters are experts at putting out fires in gasoline and even hybrid vehicles, but Jones said they had never before seen anything like the blaze in the Tesla.

“Lithium ion batteries, they burn really hot,” Jones said. “To extinguish that fire takes copious amounts of water.”

Firefighters freed McCarthy, a former FBI agent, from the vehicle about 20 minutes after they arrived on the scene. He was taken to Eskenazi Hospital, where he later died.

Follow Vic Ryckart on Twitter: @VicRyc

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