For fans of Knight Rider, we have good news: A car may have just helped to solve a string of crimes. For criminals and people with concerns about privacy and surveillance, we have bad news: A car may have just helped to solve a string of crimes.
Teslas are fitted with a "Sentry Mode" feature. When enabled and left unattended, the car will use its external cameras to detect threats. If a minor "threat" is detected, such as someone leaning on the Tesla, the car will display a warning that the cameras are recording to deter any potential thieves. Should a greater threat be detected, the cameras will begin recording, and the car will begin blaring music at top volume to alert people in the area, as well as notifying the owner via their phone.
These features came in handy when trying to capture a suspect allegedly involved in a string of hate crimes directed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, Gizmodo reports. In December 2020, several fires were started at the church and a series of tire slashings occurred in the vicinity. On December 28, a fire was set that "essentially destroyed the building", the FBI write in an affidavit.
A suspect was finally caught by the authorities when footage of 44-year-old Maine resident Dushko Vulchev was recovered from a Tesla, which was parked near the church at the time.
"Based on my training and experience and this investigation, I am aware that the Tesla referenced above is equipped with cameras at various points around the body. ATF Special Agent Marc Maurino and I have reviewed video footage retrieved from the Tesla showing an individual that I can identify as Vulchev, based on my observation of Vulchev during the Vulchev PPD Interview," the FBI wrote in the affidavit, adding "Vulchev’s face is clearly visible in the video".
The pastor and nearly all of the congregants of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church are black, as were the victims of the spree. Further investigation into Vulchev's life revealed he frequently "displayed racial animus towards non-whites and Muslims" as well as using the N-word to describe black people. Several racist messages using the racial slur were also sent from his account.
Following the evidence from the sentry mode camera linking him to damage of the Tesla, he has been charged with four counts of damage to religious property involving fire and one count of use of fire to commit a federal felony. He will appear in court at a later date.
With more and more vehicles fitted with such technology, this will likely not be the last case in which a car helps to solve a crime.