Staff and wire reports 12:23 p.m. EDT July 1, 2016


Joshua D. Brown was the owner and founder of Nexu Innovations. Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio, died in a tragic motor vehicle accident Saturday, May 7, 2016.(Photo: Photo courtesy of Nexu Innovations website)



Joshua Brown, believed to be the first person killed in a car that was in semi-autonomous driving mode, was was playing a “Harry Potter” video at the time of the accident, according to the driver whose semi-trailer rig Brown hit.

The crash happened when a semi-trailer rig turned left in front of Brown’s 2015 Tesla S at a highway intersection, according to police investigating the accident in Williston, Florida. The car was in “autopilot” mode at the time of the crash. Police said the roof of the car struck the underside of the trailer and the car passed beneath. The car went off the road, striking two wire fences and a power pole before coming to a rest about 100 feet away. Brown was dead at the scene.

Frank Baressi, the driver of the truck, said Brown was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” when the Tesla hit the truck, The Associated Press reported. Baressi said, “(Brown) went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.”

The Associated Press also reported Brown had eight speeding tickets in six years.

Brown, a 40-year-old from Canton, Ohio, started a popular YouTube channel with a number of short videos demonstrating Tesla’s Autopilot in various situations. It included videos showing the feature having trouble navigating certain corners and performing well on others.

In an October 2015 video, Brown was recorded in the Tesla, which he called “Tessy,” driving in autopilot in stop-and-go traffic on the highway. His hands were off the wheel.

“It takes all the stress (out),” Brown said in the video. “(You) get to your destination slightly slower, but, hey, at least now you don’t have to worry about anything. Just let it go.”

In an April 5, 2016 video, Brown recorded the autopilot function swerving to avoid a white boomlift truck that cut him off.

“I actually wasn’t watching that direction and Tessy (the name of my car) was on duty with autopilot engaged,” Brown wrote in the YouTube description. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities. I have always been impressed with the car, but I had not tested the car’s side collision avoidance. I am VERY impressed. Excellent job Elon!”

According to Brown’s obituary and a biography on his company website, he studied physics and computer science at the University of New Mexico. In his junior year, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1997 and served 11½ years on active duty as a master explosive ordnance disposal technician. His obituary said he was Navy SEAL and was deployed numerous times overseas with Special Operations Forces.

He created the technology company Nexu Innovations Inc., which provides Wi-Fi, camera systems and home automation services that allow consumers to control things like lights and temperature remotely. The company website said it provides its services to the public consumer market, Department of Defense and other government organizations.

In a statement released Friday, Brown’s family noted his “passion for technological advancement” and said they are cooperating with the investigation. The family hopes “information learned from this tragedy will trigger further innovation which enhances the safety of everyone on the roadways.”

The phone number listed for his Ohio-based company went to Brown’s voicemail. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment. The company has a staff of eight, according to the website.

Brown was not married and is survived by his parents and a sister. His family could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

In a blog post Thursday, Tesla Motors said Brown “had a loving family and we are beyond saddened by their loss.”

The automaker called him “a friend to Tesla and the broader EV community, a person who spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly in Tesla’s mission.”

Staff writers Ian Thibodeau and Michael Martinez contributed, as did the Associated Press

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