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autoNovember 21, 2022

Tesla driver blames car as South Korean trial over fatal crash commences


Seoul - In an upscale Seoul neighbourhood two years ago, a white Tesla Model X smashed into a parking lot wall. The fiery crash killed a prominent lawyer - a close friend of South Korea's president.

Prosecutors have charged the driver with involuntary manslaughter. He blames Tesla.

Choi Woan-jong, who had eked out a living by driving drunk people home in their own cars, says the Model X sped out of control on its own and that the brakes failed in the December 2020 accident.

The criminal trial about to begin in South Korea hangs on questions about the safety of Tesla cars, at a time when the EV maker faces a range of lawsuits and increased scrutiny by regulators.

Choi, 61, is now unable to find work as an independent driver, or what is known in Korea as a 'replacement driver'. He says he suffers flashbacks and depression ahead of a trial that pits his credibility against the world's most valuable automaker.

'When I wake up, I feel abandoned, floating alone in the middle of the ocean,' said Choi, who underwent surgery after the crash for a ruptured intestine.

Tesla did not respond to written requests for comment about the crash and Choi's case. A lawyer for the family of Yoon Hong-geun, who owned the car and died in the crash, declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Choi floored the accelerator as he entered the garage of a Seoul apartment building, hitting 95km/h before crashing. He denies that, saying the car's side mirrors began folding in and out uncommanded just before the car accelerated on its own.

'It felt like the car was swept away by a hurricane,' said Choi, who said he had been driving for more than 20 years and had experience driving Teslas.

The carmaker provided prosecutors with data from the Model X that the car transmitted in the moments before the crash, the judge said at a preliminary hearing. The defence team has asked to see the data and is waiting for the court to release it.

Choi and his lawyer are seeking to show that the car's electrical systems failed and that its design slowed firefighters' attempts to rescue Yoon.

The Tesla's battery caught fire after the crash. Smoke and flames filled the car, according to firefighters and a video of the scene, taken by firefighters and viewed by Reuters.

Choi escaped through a broken window on his side. Firefighters were delayed in pulling Yoon out of the back seat, because the Model X's electronic doors failed to open from outside, a December 31, 2020, fire department report reviewed by Reuters shows. The report does not say how long the rescue was delayed.

iol