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Feds Launch Investigation Of Fiery Fatal Tesla Crash

MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS SF) -- The National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday it was launching an investigation of a fatal Tesla crash on southbound Highway 101 last week.

In a tweet, the NTSB said it was sending two inspectors to examine the charred remains of the car to determine why it burst into flames and also if the automated control system was engaged at the time of the crash.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said it would be hard to anticipate how long the investigation would take since each case is different.

"The investigation has begun, it's just a matter of collecting data," he said.

The driver who was killed in the crash last Friday has been identified by the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office as 38-year-old Wei Huang of San Mateo.

Huang succumbed to his injuries Friday afternoon at Stanford University Medical Center, where he was transported after the collision, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP said Huang was traveling at freeway speeds on the split along the Highway 101 and state Highway 85 junction, lost control and struck the middle barrier causing his vehicle to catch fire.

car fire
Flames and smoke erupt from the wreckage of a collision on southbound U.S. Highway 101 at State Highway 85 in Mountain View, March 23, 2018. (Yao Ko)

After Huang's Tesla hit the median, it landed in the second left-most lane of southbound Highway 101 and was hit by a white Mazda and consequently struck again by a gray Audi traveling in the adjacent lane.

The three vehicles were loaded onto tow trucks after Tesla engineers investigated the scene and verified it was safe to move the cars, according to the CHP.

For about five hours, the right two lanes of southbound Highway 101 were the only lanes open to traffic as detectives closed the carpool flyover and two left-most lanes for preliminary investigation.

Mountain View fire officials responded to the scene minutes after the alert was issued since they were notified that the Tesla was ablaze.

KPIX 5 contacted Tesla for comment on the crash after learning Tesla engineers were at the scene. A spokesperson replied with a statement that read, "We are working to establish the facts of the incident and offer our full cooperation to local authorities."

The spokesperson also said it is Tesla's practice to dispatch a team in the "rare event" of a collision that results in a fire or other issue involving a battery.

The investigation is the latest by federal authorities into a crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

In January, the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dispatched teams to Culver City, near Los Angeles, to investigate the crash of a Model S electric car that may have been operating under the Autopilot system. The crash remains under investigation.

The news of the latest investigation helped fuel a tumble by Tesla stock on Wall Street. The stock slid 8% to $279.18 a share.

A bearish analyst note also dragged down the stock. Citi analysts said their research shows Model 3 competition is heating up and could indicate near-term risk for shares, according to CNBC.

John Thompson, CEO of hedge fund Vilas Capital Management, told MarketWatch on Tuesday that Tesla will be bankrupt within four months unless chief executive Elon Musk "pulls a rabbit out of his hat."

"Companies eventually have to make a profit, and I don't ever see that happening here," Thompson, who has a short position on the stock, told the financial news site. "This is one of the worst income statements I've ever seen and between the story and the financials, the financials will win out in this case."

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc., Cable News Network, Inc. and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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