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Federal traffic safety agency announces probe into Newport Beach Tesla crash that killed 3

A man stops at a memorial shrine erected on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
A man stops at a memorial shrine erected on West Coast Highway to honor the three victims who died in a May 12 solo-vehicle collision involving a Tesla Model S. NHTSA announced Wednesday it had sent a special team to investigate the crash.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A collision that killed three people traveling in a 2022 Tesla Model S on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach May 12 is the subject of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, several media outlets reported Wednesday.

Reuters confirmed a special investigation had been opened into a fatal Tesla crash that occurred sometime this month in California and resulted in three fatalities.

The incident is one of more than 30 under review by NHTSA since 2016 involving Tesla vehicles that employ advanced driver assistance systems, such as Autopilot, the report continued.

Although Reuters did not reference the Newport Beach collision, ABC News reported the federal agency had confirmed it had sent a team to the city to investigate the incident.

Wreckage from a May 12 vehicle collision on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach is gathered as part of a local investigation.
Wreckage from a May 12 vehicle collision on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach is gathered as part of a local investigation by city police. The incident is under review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach police officers responding to the Tesla crash at 12:45 a.m. on the 3000 block of West Coast Highway May 12 reported the vehicle appeared to have collided with construction equipment on the southbound side of the highway. Three deceased individuals were discovered inside the vehicle.

The coroner’s office identified the occupants as Wayne Walter Swanson Jr, 40, of Newport Beach; 34-year-old Crystal McCallum, of Texas; and Andrew James Chaves, 32, of Arizona.

Three construction workers who’d been at the site when the collision took place were transported to a nearby hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries, Newport Beach Police Department reported at the time of the incident.

Reuters reported that out of the 35 special crash investigations by the U.S. transportation safety agency into Tesla in the past six years, the Autopilot feature had been ruled out in three cases.

A sidewalk shrine marks the spot on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach where three died in May 12 vehicle collision.
A sidewalk shrine, seen Wednesday, marks the spot on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach where three died in May 12 vehicle collision.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The feature reportedly allows vehicles to steer, accelerate and brake automatically, but Tesla cautions the public on its website that feature, as well as full self-driving features available in some models, require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.

“Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” reads a statement on the company’s support page. “While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel said on May 12 the collision was being locally reviewed by the department’s Major Accident Investigation Team. Rangel said Wednesday she was not able to comment on any kind of probe by NHTSA into the crash.

Police say the incident took place at 12:45 a.m., after a vehicle hit a curb and collided with construction equipment on West Coast Highway. A 40-year-old Newport Beach man and two out-of-state residents were found dead inside.

In the days following the incident, a roadside shrine began growing along on a portion of West Coast Highway where the incident occurred. A pile of flowers, candles and other tributes have been placed on the sidewalk, where some passersby kneel to observe more closely.

One photograph showed a smiling Chaves, frontman of the Arizona band Katastro, which had performed an April 30 concert at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheater, according to a post on Facebook. Band members reported the news Friday on Instagram.

“We are completely devastated to have to announce the loss of our brother and singer Andy Chaves,” they wrote. “Please respect the privacy of Andy’s family and the members of the band as we all begin to process this. Thank you for the love and support.”

A memorial shrine on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach honors victims of a May 12 collision, including artist Andy Chaves.
A memorial shrine on West Coast Highway in Newport Beach honors victims of a May 12 collision, including Arizona artist Andy Chaves, frontman of the band Katastro.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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