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Mix-Up With Tesla Touchscreen Killed Angela Chao: Report

Chao with husband Jim Breyer
Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on Jalopnik.

Angela Chao — billionaire sister of former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and sister-in-law of Mitch McConnell — died last month when her Tesla Model X sank in a manmade pond on her 900-acre Texas ranch. She was trapped in the car as it flooded, unable to open the unpowered doors, as friends and rescue crews tried to find a way to break in. Now, a report from the Wall Street Journal claims the Tesla’s touchscreen-based shifting interface may have contributed to her getting in the water to begin with.

Back in 2021, Tesla moved to a touchscreen interface for shifting its cars. According to the Wall Street Journal, that touchscreen was a feature that had previously caused problems for Chao. The report claims that, while attempting to make a three-point turn, Chao inadvertently put the Tesla in reverse instead of forward:

Within minutes of saying her goodbyes, she called one of her friends in a panic. While making a three-point turn, she had put the car in reverse instead of drive, she said. It is a mistake she had made before with the Tesla gearshift. The car had zipped backward, tipping over an embankment and into a pond. It was sinking fast. Could they help her?

Everyone looking at the situation seems to throw some amount of blame on the Model X. Some blame the doors’ convoluted emergency opening system, while others eye the touchscreen shifter that had previously troubled Chao. One person, however, doesn’t seem to think Tesla did any wrong: Chao’s husband, Jim Breyer. From the Wall Street Journal:

No one in the family blames Tesla, according to a person familiar with the situation. Breyer and his wife had three Teslas and loved them, and often spoke about how electric vehicles were good for the planet. Breyer considers himself a friend of Elon Musk’s.

The full piece is well worth a read, as it delves into all the events of the night Chao died — as well as the conspiracy theories that sprung up in the wake of her death. Unfortunately, it can’t explain the details of how to figure out Tesla’s dumb touchscreen shifter. You’re on your own for that one.

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