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Youngest crash victim was a technology wizard

Palo Alto resident Andrew Ingram, 31, was pursuing his lifelong dream at Tesla

Andrew Ingram, the youngest victim of Wednesday's fatal plane crash in East Palo Alto, was a technology wizard and a car buff long before he joined Tesla Motors two years ago.

As a child in Santa Rosa, Ingram would take apart gadgets and appliances during family gatherings and then put them back together.

As a junior high student he created an eco-friendly air-conditioning system for his room. As a high school student he built his own stereo speakers and installed a motor -- along with a series of lightbulbs -- on his bicycle.

The bulbs quickly burned out.

Ingram also tinkered with cars -- a habit he picked up from his father, Ingram's aunt, Kathy Trafton recalled.

"He took to technology like a duck to water," Trafton told the Weekly. "He was always interested in everything technical."

Most recently, as an accomplished engineer living in Palo Alto, Ingram has been applying his energy to restoring his 1972 BMW tii and working at Tesla.

Jonathan Brusco, one of Ingram's closest childhood friends, recalled staying up until 4 a.m. one morning to help Ingram finish constructing a pair of high-end speakers. Ingram, who was then a freshman at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, had to travel back to school that morning and didn't even have a chance to test his latest creation, Brusco recalled.

Ingram's fascination with technology, particularly cars and stereos, grew over the years, Trafton said.

Ingram's generous nature and varied interests made him popular among many social groups, including his crew rowing team, his engineering friends and his movie friends, with whom he would meet every week to watch movies and eat homemade dinners, Trafton said.

He was also an avid fan of classical music and was just about to pursue his long-held dream of learning to play the piano, she said.

A skilled chef, Ingram also liked to cook for his friends and family, Trafton said. As a child, he would bake bread and pies. Three days before the plane crash, Ingram cooked a dinner of stuffed pork ribs for Brusco and his wife.

Brusco described Ingram as an extremely sincere, good-hearted and humble individual, and a reliable friend. Four months ago, Ingram was the best friend at Brusco's wedding.

But Ingram left the bachelor party at Lake Tahoe early because he was able to arrange a flight back to the Bay Area on a private jet. The pilot was Doug Bourn, Ingram's colleague at Tesla who happened to be in Tahoe that weekend.

On Wednesday, Bourn was the pilot of the Cessna plane that crashed on Beech Street in East Palo Alto. Bourn, Ingram and another Tesla employee, Peter Finn, were killed.

Trafton said Ingram was no stranger to riding in a private plane. He occasionally talked about his upcoming plane trips, she said.

After graduating from college, Ingram spent close to two years working in a Southern California law firm before moving to the Bay Area. After living for a brief period with his grandparents in Hillsborough Ingram moved to Palo Alto, where he lived with his cat in a single-family home on Homer Avenue.

In 2004, he took a job at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco. Trafton said Ingram's acute sense of hearing and his passion for stereo systems made him perfectly suited for the Dolby job, which required him to take trips to car companies to test sound systems. Ingram held the job until 2007, when he joined Tesla.

It was at Tesla where the young engineer finally got a chance to combine all three of his passions: music, cars and "green" technology. His assignments at Tesla included, but weren't limited to, making sure the car's elaborate electrical systems didn't interfere with the stereo sound.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk described Ingram on the company's website as "passionate about electronics and exquisite audio systems" and "eager to lend a hand wherever it was needed, from marketing to manufacturing."

Brusco, who last saw Ingram on Monday, agreed. Two days before the crash, they took a 20-mile bike ride near Morgan Hill. Brusco said Tesla was the dream job for the young, green-minded engineer. Ingram has always been eco-conscious, Brusco said. Once, in junior high, he even created a model house powered entirely by windmills.

"He was totally in his element at Tesla," Brusco said. "He was working with cars, working with audio and doing something that was good for the world."

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