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NTSB, NHTSA To Investigate Fiery Crash Of Tesla In Ft. Lauderdale

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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) - A fiery crash of a Tesla in Ft. Lauderdale which claimed the lives of two teens has drawn the interest of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency has sent a team of four investigators to look into this accident. The NTSB doesn't normally look into car crashes but this particular one was with an electric Tesla, so the agency wants to make sure the car's technology had nothing to do with the fire.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday they will investigate the crash and take action based on its review. The NHTSA said they will likely focus their investigation on the electric vehicle battery fire.

The 2014 Tesla Model S was reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed when it crashed into a wall on Seabreeze Boulevard and burst into flames. The crash occurred right near a sharp curve heading southbound off of Fort Lauderdale Beach near the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel.

"I saw the car coming too fast, southbound around that curve, sideswipe the first wall, hit the second wall, the curved wall, and immediately burst into flames," said Larry Groshart. "It was burning all the way across until it hit the lamp post."

The driver, 18-year-old Barrett Riley, and the front seat passenger, 18-year-old Edgar Monserratt, died in the crash. The medical examiner ruled that Riley died of thermal injuries and Monserratt died of blunt force trauma and thermal injuries.

Alexander Berry, 18, who was in the back seat, was ejected on impact. He was taken to Broward Health Medical Center.

Investigators believe speed was a factor in Tuesday's crash and now CBS4 News has learned that speed was a factor in a ticket Riley received just two months prior to his death.

The ticket shows Riley was cited for driving 112 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone.

It happened March 3rd in the area of Fort Lauderdale along US1 near the airport while driving a 2014 grey Tesla S.

It was a mere four miles from where Riley's life would end.

On the March ticket, police wrote the "driver did not have a reason for the speed" and that the "driver had three other young adults in the vehicle with him."

Court records show Riley was given a fine of nearly $600 dollars and ordered to attend driving school.

Barrett Riley's aunt, Pat, told CBS4 News that the family knew about the speeding ticket and that Barrett was not at all reckless and was often the designated driver for his friends.

She said that after the ticket Barrett's parents had Tesla alter the car so that it could not go faster than 85 miles per hour.

The aunt questioned the battery in the Tesla as well as the safety features of the car and why the teens were unable to escape the vehicle as the fire consumed it.

She also said that Elon Musk reached out personally to Barrett's father today to offer his condolences on Barrett's death.

The NTSB said their primary focus will be "on emergency response in relation to the electric vehicle battery fire, including fire department activities and towing operations." The agency said they want to focus on emerging transportation technologies and have seen fires in electric batteries after accidents. They do not anticipate autopilot being a part of this investigation.

"NTSB has a long history of investigating emerging transportation technologies, such as lithium-ion battery fires in commercial aviation, as well as a fire involving the lithium-ion battery in a Chevrolet Volt in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration," said NTSB Chairman Robert S. Sumwalt.

"They couldn't get out of the car. For it to be engulfed in flames and young men to die that way and not be able to get out and no one be able to get to them and break the windows, the tragedy is a thousand times even worse," said Barrett Riley's aunt Pat Riley.

Barrett was one of seven children. His family owns four Tesla cars. The family bought them specifically for safety reasons, Barrett Riley even toured the factory with his dad.

"My brother always thought it was safest car, that there could be no fire. That's the ironic part. He bought if for my nephew because he thought it would be the safest. He wanted him to be protected," said Pat Riley.

It's the second time in the past two months that the agency has investigated a Tesla fire. A probe is under way into a fire in a Tesla Model X SUV that crashed on a freeway near Mountain View, California, on March 23. Lithium-ion batteries like those used by Tesla can catch fire and burn rapidly in a crash, although Tesla has maintained its vehicles catch fire far less often than those powered by gasoline.

On Wednesday, Tesla released a statement regarding the crash.

"The family who owned the car has been a close friend of Tesla for many years, and this hits us particularly hard. Everything we have seen thus far indicated a very high-speed collision and that Autopilot was not engaged. Serious high-speed collisions can result in a fire, regardless of the type of car."

Tesla is cooperating the authorities.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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