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Driver to stand trial in Tesla autopilot crash which killed two in Gardena

Feds investigate Newport Beach Tesla crash which killed three
Feds investigate Newport Beach Tesla crash which killed three 00:24

The driver of a Tesla which was operating on autopilot must stand trial for a 2019 crash that killed two people in Gardena, a judge ruled Thursday.

There is enough evidence to try Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, on two counts of vehicular manslaughter, a Los Angeles County judge said in a Compton courtroom.

It is believed to be the first felony prosecution in the U.S. against a driver using a partially automated driving system.

The crash occurred on Dec. 29, 2019, at the intersection of Artesia Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. Gardena police said the Tesla Model S left a freeway and ran a red light when it smashed into a Honda Civic.

The crash killed Gilberto Alcazar Lopez, 40, of Rancho Dominguez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, 39, of Lynwood, who were in the Civic and were on their first date that night, relatives told the Orange County Register.

Riad and a woman in the Tesla were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges last October.

Prosecutors said the Tesla's Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control were active. A Tesla engineer testified that sensors indicated Riad had a hand on the steering wheel but crash data showed no brakes were applied in the six minutes before the crash.

A police officer testified Thursday that several traffic signs warning motorists to slow down were posted near the end of the freeway.

Tesla has said that Autopilot and a more sophisticated "Full Self-Driving" system cannot drive themselves and that drivers must pay attention and be ready to react at any time.

The misuse of Autopilot, which can control steering, speed and braking, has occurred on numerous occasions and is the subject of investigations by two federal agencies. The filing of charges in the crash could serve notice to drivers who use systems like Autopilot that they cannot rely on them to control vehicles.

The criminal charges aren't the first involving an automated driving system, but they are the first to involve a widely used driver technology. Authorities in Arizona filed a charge of negligent homicide in 2020 against a driver Uber had hired to take part in the testing of a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads. The Uber vehicle, an SUV with the human backup driver on board, struck and killed a pedestrian.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday confirmed that it had sent a special crash investigation team to determine whether a Tesla involved in a May 12 crash in Newport Beach that killed three people was operating on a partially automated driving system.

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