In family videos and photos, Broward Dr. Omar Awan can be seen celebrating his birthday and traveling overseas with his five children and wife.
“He was a very gentle soul. He was very, very supportive. Not only was he a provider but he was the backbone of the family,” said his wife Dr. Liliana Awan.
“He was always smiling, cracking jokes with me,” said his son, Saf Awan.
In February 2019, Awan didn’t come home from doing errands so his son used a cell phone tracker to find him.
“I looked at it and it was kind of weird because the location was in the middle of South Flamingo Road,” Saf said. “I just thought it was like an error, like a buffering error.”
A cellphone video shows the aftermath of the violent crash ending with Awan’s 2016 Tesla Model S in flames on South Flamingo Road, just minutes away from his home.
“I said, ‘God, why him? Why him? Why my husband?'” Liliana said. “I thought I was living in a dream … that he would show up at the door. That he would come any day and joke around with the children.”
“It took me three years to actually talk without losing it,” she added.
“You feel down. You feel the worst you have ever been, you know, losing dad,” Saf said.
A Davie Police officer who witnessed the crash rushed to the scene. He told investigators he and others tried to get Dr. Awan out of the vehicle but they couldn’t open the doors, according to the police report.
A Davie Police spokeswoman also told NBC 6 on the day of the accident, “They couldn’t find a door knob to try to go in that way and unfortunately were not able to extract the driver,” adding, “they attempted to break the window in order to get the subject out but were not successful. The flames were too strong. Too big at that point.”
“He was only 48. We have little kids … this was the prime of his life,” Liliana told NBC 6 while fighting back tears. “This should have never happened to anybody in this world … Nobody deserves to die like that.”
According to the medical examiner report, Awan died from burns and inhaling toxic fumes, not from the impact of the crash.
“I knew, I knew there was more to it,” Liliana said. “I knew he didn’t die on impact. I knew he was fighting for his life.”
Tesla markets the Model S online as one of the most aerodynamic vehicles on the road. The door handles that retract into the door are one reason why.
A Davie Police officer investigating the crash said he asked an expert at Tesla about the door handles and was told they are supposed to automatically come out “in the event of a crash and do reliably in minor to moderate crashes” but the officer wrote, “they did not in this crash.”
According to the report, the expert also explained “the handles … are electronic and would not operate if power is abruptly cut in the vehicle,” adding “there is a mechanical back-up in place that can only be accessed from the inside of the vehicle, which it’s why the company gives training to first responders to break the window and open the vehicle from the inside.”
“He could have been saved. He could have been here. He could have been with us, with his children,” Liliana said.
Awan’s family is suing Tesla alleging the Model S design was “defective” and those on scene couldn’t get Dr. Awan out of the car “because the door handles failed.” They also say in the lawsuit the vehicle had an “unreasonably dangerous fire risk…” and the combination resulted in a death trap.
NBC 6 reached out to Tesla and its attorneys on the case about the family’s allegations and asked if there has been any change to the door handles. We have not received a response.
But in court filings, Tesla denies all of the family’s allegations about the accident saying the car was “state of the art” and made to industry standards.
Tesla also said Awan had drugs in his system that impaired him citing his blood alcohol level – which was above the legal limit, according to a toxicology report.
In the investigative report of the crash, police wrote he was speeding.
Awan’s family told NBC 6 none of that is what killed him.
“Forget the technicalities of this, that, whatever … The bottom line is that he was alive,” Liliana said.
Liliana said they’re sharing their story because they worry this could happen to someone else.
“I want people, I want to shake them and say, ‘Listen, these futuristic cars have benefits but they also have high, high risks and yes, death is one of them,” Liliana said, adding “If I can save the grief of one family, that will be good enough for me.”
NBC 6 checked if there has been any recall of the 2016 Tesla Model S related to the door handles on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website and couldn’t find one.