Broward County

Teens burned to death in 116 mph crash. Here’s why the driver’s parents have sued Tesla

The 2014 Tesla Model S in which teenagers Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt Martinez died in a fiery May 8, 2018, crash on Fort Lauderdale’s Seabreeze Boulevard
The 2014 Tesla Model S in which teenagers Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt Martinez died in a fiery May 8, 2018, crash on Fort Lauderdale’s Seabreeze Boulevard National Transportation Safety Board

The parents of Fort Lauderdale’s Barrett Riley, the 18-year-old killed with a friend in a high-speed, blazing 2018 crash, say their son was driving, but Tesla’s at fault for the speed, the fire and the teen’s deaths.

That’s according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday by James Riley, Barrett Riley’s father, in California’s Santa Clara County, where Tesla is based.

If this civil suit’s theory sounds familiar, it is because the parents of the friend who was killed — Edgar Monserratt — filed a Broward County civil lawsuit in January against Tesla. James Riley was added as a defendant in the Broward suit 10 days after the filing.

As of Thursday evening, Tesla had not responded to two emails from the Miami Herald requesting comment.

Neither lawsuit disputes court records and the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report, which say:

Two months after getting a ticket for driving the 2014 Tesla Model S 112 mph in a 50-mph zone, Barrett Riley hit triple digit speeds at 6:46 p.m. May 8, 2018, with Monserratt in the front passenger seat and another teen in a back seat. He blew through the 1300 block of Fort Lauderdale’s Seabreeze Boulevard, a 30-mph zone approaching a curve with a 25-mph advised speed.

Barrett Riley lost control of the Tesla, which smacked the wall in front of a home twice, burst into flames and crashed into a light pole across the street. He was going 116 mph three seconds before impact.

Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt were dead 16 days before their graduation from Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest School. The back seat passenger was hospitalized.

Barrett Riley and Edgar Monserratt Martinez Facebook

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But the James Riley lawsuit, like the Monserratt lawsuit, points to a speed device that would have capped the car’s speed at 85 mph. Both suits claim the device disappeared while being serviced at Tesla’s Dania Beach location.

“The car never should’ve been able to go that fast,” said attorney Curtis Miner of Miami’s Colson Hicks Eidson. “After Barrett got a speeding ticket, James Riley asked Tesla to put on a speed limiter. Tesla took it off without telling the parents. If the parents had known it was off, they never would’ve let him drive the car.”

As for why the device was removed, Miner said that could be learned during the discovery phase

“The speed is the cause of the accident, but not of Barrett’s death,” Miner said. “But for a defect in the battery, he would’ve had the accident, opened the door and gotten out.”

The suit says the autopsy on Barrett Riley “had no broken bones, no injuries to his head, and no injuries to his body other than the fatal burns. Barrett Riley died inside the 2014 Model S due to the runaway battery fire.”

Blaming “thermal runaway” in the car’s lithium-ion battery, the suit alleges Tesla knew this was a risk and didn’t include safety measures on the 2014 Model S.

The NTSB preliminary report says after Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue put out the original fire, the battery reignited on the way to the storage yard.

Miner and Mike Eidson filed the suit with California co-counsel Michael Kelly and Andrew McDevitt of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger.

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.