Conspiracy theorists who have trained their Twitter accounts on the death of journalist Michael Hastings often seem to focus on the fact that engine in the Mercedes he crashed landed several yards away.
In fact we learned through traffic investigators that the motor landed about 100 feet away. Unusual? Bizarre? Unheard of?
Not so much:
While it doesn't happen every day, it happens. And let us say here that the concentric circles between online conspiracy theorists and car guys seem to have little overlap if the knowledge being displayed about cars in the Hastings case is any indication.
There are numerous examples of engines flying out of cars in high-speed crashes.
In fact, in February, a horrific NASCAR crash saw a motor fly into the stands. Now, you might say that this is a different ballgame, but keep in mind that race cars are designed and built to much stricter crash standards. It's why you often see drivers walk away from high-speed accidents.
You can search Google for engines flying out of cars in high-speed wrecks on public streets and highways and come up with dozens of news stories.
But naysayers will then point to the fact that Hastings was behind the wheel of a solid, late-model Mercedes-Benz.
Doubters have pointed to a lack of evidence that this has ever happened in such a car, but keep in mind how new it is to the market. The C250 couple was introduced for the 2012 model year in North America.
Note that there have been three Southern California accidents in the last five years involving Ferraris — fairly well-built cars — in which the vehicles were actually split in half. (No motors flew, as far as we know, but in those cases they were mid-engine cars, with the power plants just behind the cockpits).
We phoned Mr. Peter M W. Dill, of Dill Engineering & Associates in Laguna Beach, to ask about the phenomenon. He's an engineer and accident expert who testifies in court cases involving bad crashes.
One of the first things he said was that he's currently working on two — two! — cases involving accidents in which engines went flying. When we said that this didn't seem to be unusual in high-speed accidents, he said, “Correct.”
He did find the fire in Hastings Tuesday morning crash on Highland Avenue near Melrose Avenue a little unusual. Dill said that the crash should have triggered an emergency gas cutoff in such a modern car. “There shouldn't have been a fire,” he said.
Collision reconstruction specialist Harry B. Ryon of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a former LAPD traffic official who also testifies in court cases involving accidents.
He said of flying motors, “You don't see that very often.” But, he added:
I have seen it a few times, usually in the higher speed crashes and freeway crashes.
He also told us previously, counter to what Dill says, that it's logical a fire would erupt after a motor detaches from the vehicle:
With the engine torn off, the gas lines would rupture, and it would start a fire.
We asked the CHP if we could interview one of its investigators about the phenomenon but the department didn't want to get into the LAPD's business.