A brand-new Tesla Model S Plaid that burst into flames in Pennsylvania on Tuesday was owned by a top executive at one of Tesla’s biggest investors, with a stake worth more than $1 billion, The Post has learned.
Bart Smith — the head of the digital asset group at trading firm Susquehanna International, who has been dubbed the “Crypto King” by CNBC — was driving his brand-new $124,000 vehicle outside Philadelphia when it was consumed in a harrowing unexplained inferno that took first responders an hour and a half to extinguish.
Attorneys for the driver declined to share the name of the owner of Tesla, but The Post has independently confirmed that Smith was at the wheel.
Susquehanna owned about $1.1 billion worth of Tesla shares as of March 31, according to it most recent disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Deliveries of the Model S Plaid — which Tesla CEO Elon Musk has touted as the “quickest production car ever made” — began just three weeks ago. Tesla did not reply to a request for comment.
Smith — who received a glowing New York Times write-up in 2018 for leading Susquehanna’s early investments in Bitcoin — declined to comment.
But the Crypto King appears to be upset with the Musk-owned Tesla about its handling of the flaming inferno that was his car.
On Thursday, one of Smith’s lawyers posted angrily about the incident on Twitter without naming his client. “Our client was trapped & could have died,” Ben Meiselas wrote. “We tried reaching out to Tesla & have been ignored so far.”
Jason Setchen, another Smith attorney who declined to name his client, would only say that the owner of the incinerated vehicle was a longtime fan of the brand who has owned Teslas in the past and knew perfectly well how to operate them.
He said the car that burst into flames was delivered on Saturday and combusted just three days later.
According to the lawyers, news reports and eyewitnesses who spoke to The Post, the terrifying bonfire kicked off Tuesday night as the car was being driven in a residential area Haverford, a Philadelphia suburb.
The driver noticed smoke coming out of the back of his Tesla and had to force his way out because the locks appeared to be malfunctioning, his attorneys from law firm Geragos & Geragos said.
“It was a large amount of heat, then a huge amount of smoke. A very acrid smell. The fire just raged for quite a while,” according to eyewitness Tom Wilkinson, who lives down the street from the scene of the fire. “There were a number of small explosions with sparks.”
The blaze was so large that Wilkinson, 65, and other neighbors worried it could spread to trees or even a nearby house on fire.
Wilkerson never saw the driver leap from the car, but he saw the car moving down the street nonetheless for about 150 feet before stopping and becoming fully engulfed in 30-foot-high flames.
Because he had not seen the driver escape, Wilkinson was worried that whomever had been in the Tesla might be burning alive. And the amount of heat emanating from the vehicle made it impossible to get close enough to check on possible victims.
“It generated a huge amount of heat,” said Wilkinson, who provided exclusive videos of the blaze to The Post. “Nobody knew until they got the flames down if he was still in the car or not.”
Firefighters from two different towns were called in to fight the fire, according to a statement posted and then deleted from the Gladwyne Fire Company’s website.
It took about 90 minutes for several teams of firefighters to extinguish it, and emergency crews were on the scene for a total of three hours, according to the fire department.
Images of the Tesla’s charred remains show that the vehicle had a Vanderbilt University plate. Smith graduated from Vanderbilt in 1999, according to his LinkedIn profile.