INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A series of intense fires both large and small prevented rescue crews from reaching the victims of a fiery car crash near downtown Indianapolis early Thursday morning.
Two people died in the accident, which happened around 1 a.m. Thursday on Illinois Street just north of 16th Street. A Tesla car crashed into a tree and caught fire. The Marion County Coroner’s Office identified the driver as 27-year-old Casey Speckman and the male passenger as 44-year-old Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy, a former FBI agent, was the president and CEO of Case Pacer, an Indianapolis-based software company.
Speckman, who was newly engaged, had recently graduated law school and was working at Case Pacers.
“The Speckman Family is grieving the sudden loss of Casey, beloved daughter, sister, cousin and fiancee. We ask that you please respect our privacy during this difficult time,” said Speckman’s family in a statement.
Speckman was pronounced dead at the scene, while McCarthy was extricated from the car and taken to Eskenazi Hospital, where he later died.
Witnesses told firefighters that the car was traveling at a high rate of speed and lost control. The impact of the crash disintegrated the car, leaving a debris field over 150 yards long.
According to Kevin Jones with the Indianapolis Fire Department, firefighters couldn’t reach the victims immediately because of several fires. They had to contend with the main fire centered on the Tesla itself as well as several smaller fires from the lithium ion batteries that power the car. Jones said some of those battery cells fired off “almost like projectiles” while crews tried to get the situation under control.
“Lithium ion batteries burn very hot,” Jones said Thursday afternoon. “To extinguish that type of fire with those batteries involved, it’s necessary to apply copious amounts of water.”
Jones said IFD has responded to crashes involving electric and hybrid vehicles before, but nothing matching the magnitude of Thursday’s “significant crash,” which left debris in all different directions. Jones said crews estimated they took five to ten minutes to extinguish the flames.
Jones said Tesla, like many manufacturers, provides and emergency response guide. In most cases, the company recommends that crews let fires burn themselves out. However, given the fact people were inside the car, Jones said that wasn’t possible in this situation.
“That is not an option,” Jones said. “The batteries can burn for up to 24 hours.”
He reiterated that crews had to use large amounts of water to get the fires under control, delaying their efforts to reach the driver and passenger. Rescue crews concentrated their rescue efforts on the passenger because the driver had been declared dead at the scene.
Jones said sometimes hybrid and electric vehicles are difficult to distinguish from typical cars, especially after the cars have been involved in a crash. He said IFD went through special training to deal with the city’s electric Blue Indy fleet that helped better prepare them for Thursday’s crash.
Jones said IFD has spoken with Tesla about the response to the crash and characterized the company as “helpful” in understanding what first responders had to contend with.