Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Monday that the Model S that crashed just outside Houston, Texas, earlier this month, killing two people, wasn’t on Autopilot – and that any suggestion otherwise was “completely false.”
Lars Moravy, Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering, added that he thought it was likely someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the deadly crash, contradicting local law enforcement.
On April 17, a Tesla Model S skipped over a curb, crashed into a tree, and burst into flames, killing two people.
A Harris County constable told local TV station KHOU on April 18 that investigators were “100% certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact.” A senior Harris County officer said on April 19 that witnesses had suggested nobody was driving the vehicle earlier in its journey.
During Tesla’s earnings call Monday, Musk said that “there were really just extremely deceptive media practices where it was claimed to be Autopilot but this is completely false.” He didn’t reference any specific media reports.
Moravy said that Tesla had been working with local authorities, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate the crash.
“The steering wheel was indeed deformed so we’re leaning to the likelihood that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash,” Moravy said.
Moravy said that Tesla was unable to recover the data from the vehicle’s SD card at the time of impact, but that the local authorities were working on that.
“We continue to hold safety in a higher regard and look to improve products in the future through this kind of data and other information from the field,” he added.
Tesla also sells its full self-driving software (FSD) as a $10,000 one-off add-on, which it plans to release widely in 2021. FSD allows cars to park themselves, change lanes, and identify both stop signs and traffic lights.
The US Department of Transportation is using a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pause construction on a highway widening project near Houston, an uncommon move that could be an early test of President Joe Biden’s commitment to addressing past racial inequities, according to Politico.
As the populous region continues to grow, the Interstate 45 highway project has been heralded as a way to reduce congestion and improve commute times, but the additional lanes would also impact several heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods, forcing residents, businesses, and houses of worship in the path to relocate.
The construction plan, known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, would widen the highway into three segments.
Local resistance to the I-45 project had been brewing for years, with many hearkening back to the 1950s when freeway routes were deliberately drawn to impact Black communities and divide people by race and class.
The I-45 project has at least been temporarily halted, with Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg now at the helm of the sprawling federal department.
Federal transportation authorities in March sent a letter asking Texas to pause contracts on the widening project while they reviewed racial justice complaints covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, along with environmental concerns.
The provision states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In a letter written to the Texas Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration cited community opposition in reviewing the I-45 widening project, mentioning Houston-area Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Air Alliance Houston, and the community organization Texas Housers.
“I think [Buttigieg] was engaged, interested and fair,” Jackson Lee told Politico after speaking with the secretary. “I think he was chagrined at federal dollars being used with such disregard of community views.”
The congresswoman feels that the Texas Department of Transportation “blatantly violated” the Title VI provision.
The project’s pause, which is being driven by civil rights laws, has thrilled grassroots activists and Washington figures.
Fred Wagner, an attorney and former chief counsel at the Federal Highway Administration under the Obama administration, told Politico that taking such a step was a big change.
“It just doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “For DOT to step in, potentially, and say ‘We don’t think it’s an appropriate solution,’ would be a really huge deal.”
Buttigieg, who is seeking to reimagine the country’s transportation system, also hopes to dismantle old processes that disenfranchised Americans of color from past planning conversations, especially when entire neighborhoods were destroyed by urban planners when the modern US highway network was first built in the 20th Century.
“This is not just a matter of halfway accidental neglect,” he said in a Politico interview last month. “We’re talking about some really intentional decisions that happened, and a lot of them happened with federal dollars.”
He said that around 83% of employees have already been vaccinated, including 95% of management staff and all the company’s executives.
“As we move closer to announcing mandatory vaccinations for all employees, we need you to go first – to lead by example and show our employees how important getting vaccinated is,” Boom told managers.
He said that managers have until April 15 to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“If not, we will follow HR policy on non-compliance,” he added.
The FAQ sheet said that staff would lose their jobs if they didn’t get the jab, but that the hospital would allow religious and medical exemptions “in very rare cases.”
“We don’t know yet if a booster [shot] will be required annually but if it is, that will also be mandatory,” the hospital wrote in the FAQ sheet.
Boom said that managers would soon receive a list of all the employees they manage who haven’t yet received a dose of the vaccine.
Staff vaccine mandates are legal, and CEOs are eyeing them up
As the vaccine rollout ramps up across the US, with President Joe Biden eyeing May 1 as the day all US adults will become eligible for the shot, some employers are mulling making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for staff.
Houston Methodist Hospital said it is legal for private companies under state and federal employment laws.
On December 29, Dr. Hasan Gokal was getting ready to wrap up the first day of Houston’s COVID-19 vaccination drive when one last person drove up for a dose before the site was set to close.
It was about 6:30 p.m. and dark outside. The vaccination site was remote, about an hour outside of Houston in the suburb of Humble.
“There was no lights, no cars anywhere. So we had to wait another half-hour to wrap things up at 7:00 p.m. That’s when we were slated to stay till,” Gokal said. “At 6:45 p.m., about 15 minutes prior to shutting down, we had one more person drive through for the vaccine. This was the problem at that point was we were done with all the vaccines and we’d done all the vaccinations. Now, one more additional person comes up and we’ve got to open a new vial of the vaccine.”
Gokal says he had to puncture open a new vial of Moderna’s vaccine, which meant he had six hours to use all 11 doses before they would have to be discarded. However, with 15 minutes left before closing, no one else arrived.
An open vaccine vial and no time to waste
He asked the 20 people working on-site, all of whom said they were already vaccinated or were not interested, Gokal said. The emergency medical services crew on site had already left, and only a few police officers remained. They, too, either already got the vaccine or were not interested.
Gokal contacted the medical director of this program and a director at the Harris County Public Health Agency to let them know he was going to search for people to vaccinate. He said both gave him a green light.
“I asked her. I said: ‘Hey, look, I’ve got these doses left. Do you have anyone I can get them into? And she herself was considering her own family,’ Gokal told Insider of the Harris County Public Health Agency director whose name he did not disclose.
A week prior to the vaccine drive, Gokal said he was on a conference call where state health officials advised those working on vaccinations not to let the vaccine go to waste, and if a vial is opened they should seek out the next category of people eligible until the doses are used.
Gokal said it was stressed that no doses should go to waste.
Unfortunately, none of the Harris County Public Health Agency director’s family was eligible and Gokal began reaching out to acquaintances to see if he could find anyone who was qualified.
Gokal lived an hour away from the vaccination site. The acquaintances lived closer to him than they did to the vaccination site, so he prepared to drive home.
At that point, Gokal said, he had two options: leave the doses on-site where they would expire and be thrown out the next day, or spend the rest of his night trying to get them in people’s arms.
“So I decided to start trying to find people who might be eligible. And I remember I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m., out working all day. So I was beat and … I didn’t really want to do this, but I knew the importance of doing this. It wouldn’t sit well with me if I didn’t try to get it to the right people,” he told Insider.
Gokal began calling acquaintances “I called and I managed to get people that were known acquaintances and people who knew them and stuff. So I said, I’m basically looking for people that I thought might have — family members who are elderly or sick or may work in doctor’s offices or that kind of stuff, who would be eligible for the next tier, which would be 1B. So I managed to find 10 people who said, OK.”
When he arrived home, Gokal said two of the people he was supposed to vaccinate were waiting, one person in their 60s and the other in their 70s. He gave them the shot before driving off to another home.
At the next house, he says he vaccinated four people. Someone in their 90s and another in their 80s who had dementia. He also vaccinated their two caregivers, both of whom were in their 60s.
Then Gokal said he went to the home of an elderly woman whose neighbor had called him and said she would qualify for the vaccine. She took it.
With just three shots remaining, Gokal said he drove back home where he was expecting the final three people to meet him. Two of them were already there. One was in her 50s and worked in a medical office and therefore had greater exposure, and the other was an individual in their 40s who was taking care of a child with medical issues who was on a ventilator. Gokal gave them their shots.
“She was a sole caregiver. She didn’t allow anyone else in the house because of the fear of bringing COVID and she herself was terrified that if she got it, her kids wouldn’t survive this,” Gokal said of the woman in her 40s.
Now past midnight, the final individual, an elderly man, who was meant to get the vaccine called Gokal and said it was too late for him to drive out, and he would find another time to get vaccinated.
With a few minutes left before the dose was set to expire, Gokal turned to his wife, who has a pulmonary condition. She was wary about whether it was a good idea.
“The reason I asked my wife was because she has been in and out of the hospital for the last 18 months with pulmonary sarcoidosis, which has left her breathless all the time. She’s on medications for it. And our own physician had told her, look, if you got a chance to get the vaccine, you must do so because you’re extremely high-risk.” Gokal said.
He said he was working in a hospital at the start of the pandemic, but switched to the public health role so he would be less of a risk to her.
“When COVID first started and I was working in the emergency room at the time I didn’t come home for a whole month, I would go live in a hotel because I was afraid of bringing it home to her,” he said.
The next day, Gokal went into the office and submitted the 10 forms on the immunizations and told his team how he handled the leftover doses. He said no one said anything.
A swift turn of events
Eight days later, Gokal was called in and fired by the human resources department. Prior to then, he had heard nothing about the incident.
“What they told me was … they asked: ‘Did you take these and give them to friends and family?’ I said, ‘Well, guys, you know what I did, I took them and found people to give them to who was eligible so that it wouldn’t get wasted and my wife was one of them,'” Gokal recounted of his interactions with an unnamed public health official. “He said, ‘Oh, you admitted, you’re fired.'”
Gokal was told that he violated protocol, but according to his lawyer, Paul Doyle, those protocols were never made clear.
Doyle said he reached out to the district attorney’s office and asked what protocols they were referencing in their case against Dr. Gokal.
“They responded to me [and said] this was a rushed event and they didn’t have written protocols in place at the time, and they didn’t have a written waitlist,” Doyle said. “So naturally, my response was and this is all in an email: ‘Under what theory are you presenting this case to a grand jury? And is there something I’m missing?’ And the answer is no.”
Gokal said he was told he should have brought the doses back to the office or thrown them away. He said he was questioned by a public health official whose name he did not disclose about why the names of those vaccinated all sounded “Indian.” He said officials were concerned they could be accused of improperly administering the vaccine.
“He abused his position to place his friends and family in line in front of people who had gone through the lawful process to be there,” Ogg said in a statement. “What he did was illegal and he’ll be held accountable under the law.”
Those charges were thrown out by criminal court judge Franklin Bynum for lack of probable cause. The Texas Medical Association and the Harris County Medical Society also released statements in support of Gokal, stressing that healthcare workers should not waste any doses of the vaccine.
Gokal said the DA’s office never tried to reach out to him to hear his version of the story. He said, at one point, he was accused of stealing more vaccine vials, but a recount of those on-hand proved none were missing.
“Basically they didn’t want to talk to him. They didn’t follow up on it until after they filed a sealed complaint along with the press release with all kinds of facts that were absolutely misrepresented,” Doyle said. “It was a bizarre sort of rush to fire him and then the follow-up rush to file charges on him, without anybody understanding what happened.”
The DA’s office has not responded to Insider’s requests for comment.
While Gokal says he wouldn’t change what he did, the consequences of his firing and subsequent criminal charges have made their way around the world and have impacted his family.
“On a very personal level. I’m OK with being attacked and having to defend myself. I’m OK. That’s part of what happens, but when it started to hurt my loved ones, that’s the first time I found myself with tears in my eyes because I realized this wasn’t just me; this was having an impact on everybody. So it’s been really hard,” Gokal said, explaining family members in Singapore, Pakistan, Dubai, and various other places all started getting calls about the news.
Harris County Public Health also contacted the medical board to initiate an investigation for unethical behavior. The department said it had no comment in response to a call from Insider.
As of Tuesday, The Texas Medical Board dismissed the cases against Gokal. On March 9, the governing body sent him a letter that said he “appeared to have administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted,” a press release said.
Gokal is without a job until all of this is sorted out. However, he’s spent his time volunteering at a charity clinic.
“I’m donating my time to go there and see patients and take care of them while I can,” Gokal said.
“It gives me joy to do that. That’s part of what I’ve always been about anyway.”
The coronavirus pandemic upended American life this past spring and summer, driving millions to move in search of more comfortable work-from-home locales and greener pastures.
Analyzing US Postal Service data, MyMove found that almost 16 million Americans moved between February and July. Mail-forwarding requests to USPS made in that time frame show that moving Americans mostly fled urban cores and relocated to more suburban areas.
Some moves were short-term. Temporary change-of-address requests to the US Post Office were up 27% in 2020 versus 2019. Permanent change-of-address requests were up 2% from last year.
Requests from the height of the pandemic largely show that Americans were moving away from cities and toward less densely populated suburbs. New York City lost over 110,000 residents from February to July, according to USPS. Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles lost thousands, too.
Texas, however, gained thousands of residents amid the pandemic.
Of the top 10 places that gained residents per USPS, six were located in Texas. All were suburbs of the state’s largest cities: Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
While it seems like everyone is moving to the Lone Star State, other locations in Florida and Idaho made the list, along with a tony Hamptons neighborhood in New York state.
Keep reading for a look at the most popular locales Americans decamped to this year: