Charges Against Tesla Owner Appear to Be a First

Kevin George Aziz Riad faces two counts of vehicular manslaughter in 2019 crash
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 18, 2022 5:15 PM CST
Tesla Owner First to Face Felony Charges in Autopilot Crash
In this July 8, 2018, file photo, clouds are reflected above the company logo on the hood of a Tesla vehicle outside a showroom in Littleton, Colo.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla on Autopilot who ran a red light, slammed into another car, and killed two people in 2019. The defendant appears to be the first Tesla owner to be charged with a felony in the United States for a fatal crash involving a motorist who was using the company's partially automated driving system. Los Angeles County prosecutors filed the charges in October, but they came to light only last week. The driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, 27, has pleaded not guilty. Riad, a limousine service driver, is free on bail while the case is pending.

The criminal charges aren't the first involving an automated driving system, but they do appear to be the first against a US driver versus someone testing 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, reports the AP.

In the Tesla crash, police said a Model S was moving at a high speed when it left a freeway and ran a red light in the Los Angeles suburb of Gardena and struck a Honda Civic at an intersection on Dec. 29, 2019. Two people who were in the Civic, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez, died at the scene. Riad and a woman in the Tesla were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. Criminal charging documents do not mention Autopilot. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sent investigators to the crash, confirmed last week that Autopilot was in use in the Tesla at the time of the crash. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23.

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The families of Lopez and Nieves-Lopez have sued Tesla and Riad in separate lawsuits. They have alleged negligence by Riad and have accused Tesla of selling defective vehicles that can accelerate suddenly, which they allege happened in this case. Nieves-Lopez’s family further asserts that Riad was an unsafe driver, with multiple moving infractions on his record, and couldn't handle the high-performance Tesla. A joint trial is scheduled for mid-2023. (More Tesla stories.)

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