Even as fans of journalist Michael Hastings, known for his takedown of General Stanley McChrystal and for his probing of CIA shenanigans, focused on his coverage of the powerful in a search for answers regarding his untimely death in Hollywood, increasing evidence points to speed as a major factor in his fatal car crash early yesterday.
LAPD traffic investigators found the motor of the late-model Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe involved in the accident about 100 feet away from the car, the Weekly has learned, a clue that would indicate the vehicle was traveling at more than 60 miles an hour when it apparently veered out of control and struck a palm tree:
That's according to the expert estimation of Harry B. Ryon, a former LAPD officer who now runs his own private accident-investigation firm in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The engine's location is evidence that the driver “was hauling Irish ass and lost control,” Ryon told us:
With the engine torn off, the gas lines would rupture and it would start a fire.
The vehicle was traveling south on Highland Avenue just past Melrose Avenue, where Hollywood turns into Hancock Park, when it crashed and burst into flames, according to LAPD traffic investigators.
TV news footage shows that the car hit a palm tree in the median, not far from Mario Batali's famed Mozza restaurants.
Ryon said it was possible to achieve freeway speeds on that stretch of Highland.
LAPD Officer Richard French says that, contrary to reports, the department has not yet identified the victim of the crash and that it could take a while: The coroner will have to use dental records to make a positive ID, he said.
It will take weeks for the coroner to conduct conclusive toxicology tests that could determine if Hastings was driving under the influence.
The writer does have a history with alcohol and drugs, however. In his first book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story, Hastings says that he crashed a car in a drunk-driving accident when he was 19.
And in this True/Slant piece from 2009, Hastings describes himself as a “a recovering drunk/addict/screw-up.”
In another True/Slant piece, he says, “I have smoked crack.”
Still, conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork to cast suspicion on the crash, which was reported at 4:25 a.m. Tuesday.
In Hastings' 2012 book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan, Hastings says a McChrystal staffer said to him, “We'll hunt you down and kill you if we don't like what you write.”
In the same book, Hastings says he hasn't had a drink in 10 years.
We also were pointed to the “Boston Brakes” technique, in which the electronic management of a car, specifically a Mercedes, can be manipulated remotely to simulate an out-of-control accident. (Google it, or check this out.)
And then there's this WikiLeaks tweet:
Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2013
Interestingly, one neighbor, Rochelle Frankel, told KTLA News the crash sounded like an explosion.
It sounded like a bomb went off in the middle of the night. My house shook. The windows were rattling.
-With reporting from L.A. Weekly staff writer Gene Maddaus