The June 18 crash of Michael Hastings took the life of a talented but troubled journalist. As Gene Maddaus' excellent feature in the latest issue of LA Weekly demonstrates, people around the L.A.-based writer were truly concerned about his state of mind and reported drug use.
The coroner's report released last week says blunt force trauma from the collision with a tree ultimately did Hastings in, but it notes that he had drugs in his system, which were listed as noncontributing factors. The conclusion that this wasn't a homicide, however, hasn't stopped conspiracy theorists.
Hastings' supporters have pointed to his work covering the military, the NSA and other Big Government institutions as reasons to be skeptical. They're wrong. Here are the five conspiracy theories or assumptions about the case that haven't panned out:
5. The FBI did it. The FBI doesn't normally kill civilians because it doesn't like the journalism they're working on. Nonetheless, the federal government has been suspect No. 1 in a case without a crime, mainly because the day before the crash Hastings told colleagues he believed he was being investigated by the bureau. The FBI says that's not true. Hastings also said he had zeroed in on a big story and needed to go off the grid. So far, though, there's no evidence of a murder here.
4. His last moments were being videotaped on purpose. A freelance news crew happened to be at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue when its dash cam, which was rolling, captured what appears to be Hastings' Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe blasting through a red light at high speed en route to his death a few blocks south. Some folks couldn't believe that a news crew just happened to have tape rolling at that moment. But it happens. Early morning hours are prime time for random news, and freelance crews are the bred-and-butter of local television's overnight coverage.
3. He was being followed. In the days and even months before his death Hastings expressed increasing concern about government wiretapping. And, yes, he apparently thought he was being watched. Some conspiracy theorists have shared their belief that Hastings was being followed, or even chased, in the minutes before his crash, thus explaining the estimated speed of 75 miles per hour, perhaps more.
If you check out the dash-cam video above, however, you'll see that nobody was following Hastings' car as it sped through the red light. And no witnesses have come forward to report that the Mercedes was being tailed or that any other car might have been involved. Police have released no statements indicating this was anything other than a solo-vehicle crash into a tree.
2. Engines don't go flying. We were the first to report that detectives believed the Mercedes' motor flew 100 feet from the point of impact. Some of the most adamant conspiracy theorists are overnight car experts who say engines just don't go flying out of modern vehicles like Hastings' Mercedes.
But a quick scan of Google proves otherwise. A NASCAR crash earlier this year saw an engine fly into the stands. And those vehicles are built to much tougher crash standards compared to consumer cars.
When we phoned private accident investigator Peter M W. Dill, of Dill Engineering & Associates in Laguna Beach, he told us he was working on two cases of road crashes involving engines that went flying.
And the top theory that didn't hold water is …
1. Cars don't explode like that. Hastings' car erupted in flames, and neighbors reported hearing an explosion. Some conspiracy theorists suggest this points to a bomb or some other rigging of the vehicle. But there are countless cases each year of vehicles, even modern ones, going up in a ball of fire following high-speed crashes.
Harry B. Ryon of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a former LAPD traffic official who also investigates vehicle collisions. He told us this: “With the engine torn off, the gas lines would rupture, and it would start a fire.”
Simple enough. Somehow, however, we think this won't be the last we hear of the conspiracy nation.