The spectacular wreck of Michael Hastings' new Mercedes at 4:15 in the morning in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles on Tuesday came as a real shock to his many admirers in the journalist world.
What was he doing at that time in the morning driving around LA? Not that it's all that unusual... except that it is. The city never sleeps, of course, and there is always a story for an intrepid journalist like Hastings in the deepest bowels of Los Angeles. We all know about Hollywood Confidential. We've seen "Chinatown" and "The Two Jakes" or like me, we lived there, and we know there are many untold stories percolating just below the surface, many of which probably shouldn't be told, but some of which must be.
What was he working on? Was he working when he was out driving at 4:15 in the morning? Or was it something else? And why was he driving where he was?
Highland is a long street that goes up into the Hollywood Hills, where all sorts of dazzling mischief takes place routinely. According to witnesses, Michael Hastings was driving south on Highland, which would mean he was coming down from the Hollywood Hills if he had stayed on Highland, but there is no firm evidence that I've seen yet that demonstrates where he was driving from. As he crossed Melrose, down in the flatlands, traveling at a very high speed going south -- again according to witnesses -- he apparently lost control of the car and slammed into a palm tree in the median less than a block from the intersection of Melrose. The car burst into flames. This is the tree, from Teh Goggle street view:
|A palm tree on Highland Ave near Melrose in Los Angeles|
It's a tony residential/commercial area, but Highland and Melrose are both very busy streets in the daytime and well into the night, so it's not someplace I would want to live. People who live there, though, live there because of the proximity to Hollywood, and Hollywood is, after all, where dreams are made.
Apparently the crash was powerful enough to burst the water mains in the median strip, for in the video I posted previously, there is a gusher of water coming from near the crash site, a gusher which contrasts strikingly with the flames engulfing what remains of the car. The tree, however, appears to be almost undamaged from the crash. Palm trees can be delicate and yet remarkably sturdy, and this one certainly showed its mettle.
One witness quoted on KTLA stated that she heard what sounded like a bomb.
That sounds right to me. There have been any number of car crashes near where I've lived in the past (I don't know how to explain it....! ;-), and one of the most spectacular took out several olive trees and a fence at the front of our property. The crash sounded very much like a massive explosion. It shook the house. When we went out to inspect the situation, the twisted remains of a Camaro (as I recall) lay upside down amidst the fence and tree debris. Three full-grown olive trees looked like they had exploded from the impact. One was more or less intact though on its side; the others were in pieces scattered in the street and on the yard. The fence was toppled but not badly damaged. As we reached the car, its occupant managed to crawl out somehow. He did not appear to be badly injured, though there was a bit of blood on his face from a cut at his hairline, and he complained of an ache in his arm. He walked a few paces from the car and sat down on the remains of an olive tree to await the arrival of Emergency Services. We'd called before we went to examine the wreckage.
The Camaro -- or what was left of it -- was upside down, smoking and steaming in our front yard. A wheel had come off of it, as well as many pieces of chrome and fender and whatnot, and neighbors were collecting them from the street and managing traffic around the debris. The car did not catch fire. It was, however, completely demolished, strongly resembling one of those flattened former autos that come out of the scrapyards. It's amazing that the driver survived. He was apparently drunk, though I can't say for sure; he was pretty incoherent, and the police said he and the car smelled of alcohol, so I took it for what it was worth. How they could tell, I'm not so sure. From the sound of the wreck, I estimated that the car was going more than 70 miles an hour when the driver lost control, and reported as much to the police.
We lived on a curve of a busy street, and there were frequent wrecks at our place as drivers came around the curve at too high a speed, but nothing like this particular wreck had happened before, nor would anything happen like it afterwards so long as we lived there.
The section of Highland Avenue where Michael Hastings wrecked, however, was quite straight; there are no curves on Highland once it emerges from the Hills. Witness reports were that the car was traveling very fast, "maybe 100 miles an hour," as it sped south on Highland, and if he was maneuvering through the intersection at Melrose without stopping for the light at such speed, it would hardly be surprising he lost control of the car. The wreck happened a few hundred feet from the intersection.
One witness seemed to be saying that he saw the car on fire as it crossed Melrose, but I have seen no confirmation, and the witness's English was poor, so I may have misunderstood him or that may not have been what he meant to say. But if the car was on fire before the crash, I think that might be a significant data point.
I would imagine there was surveillance video taken from several angles from the businesses at the intersection of Melrose and Highland. There may be some surveillance videos from closer to the scene of the crash as well. People in Hollywood are into cameras for some reason... So it should be possible to determine with certainty whether the car was on fire when it sped through the intersection.
Many people have remarked about the fact that Hastings' car burned at all, and I detailed a similar crash that happened in our front yard years ago in part to make the point that I have personally witnessed a similar sort of crash in which there was no fire, and indeed the driver walked away, injured to be sure, but whole.
Hastings was apparently burned beyond recognition.
Others have pointed out that cars often do burst into flame when they crash, so what happened in this case was not unusual. Since we've been in New Mexico we've seen many instances as well of automobiles -- relatively new ones, too -- seemingly spontaneously bursting into flames on the freeways or side streets. It's practically a daily occurrance.
According to what I read this morning, Hastings was in LA working on a story about Barrett Brown. Cenk Uygur posted this video on Current TV:
I don't know what to make of this story as Cenk seems to be all over the map in it. On the other hand, he's been dogging this story, unlike most of the media, so he may be on to something.
Earlier Cenk ran this piece:
Of course, it is all interrelated to the National Surveillance State that has been on the minds of many of the public and in the media since the reports of the surveillance of AP reporters, a FOX reporter, and latterly, of everyone under the rubric of "keeping us safe from terrorism."
Of course that's a crock. That is not why the surveillance is going on as anyone with half a brain should be able to tell. The surveillance is going on to keep control of a potentially restive population as more and more neo-liberal economic policies and neo-conservative warrior policies are introduced and implemented. It's obvious as sin. The knowledge that one is being surveilled is very effective at suppressing dissent and revolt. That's the point of it.
Michael Hastings apparently was worried -- even somewhat paranoid -- about being surveilled by the FBI or who knows what other agencies, and it's at least plausible to me that he could have been speeding down Highland at 4:00 am because he thought he was being tailed by some flatfoot agent of the Surveillance State and he was trying to escape or lose the tail. There are those who claim he was probably drunk or on some prescription like Ambien, and it's possible, but in either case, it doesn't really explain the speed he was driving at on a heavily utilized city street in Los Angeles at 4:00am. Even if he was drunk, that kind of speed under those circumstances would be unusual, unless... well, we don't know, and it is unlikely that whatever the Official Story turns out to be, that we'll find out any time soon.
Rest in peace, Michael.
UPDATE: There is another video from Loudlabs that apparently shows the Hastings car blowing through a red light at Highland and Santa Monica Blvd seconds before the crash on southbound Highland just south of Melrose. Apparently one of the Loudlabs camera cars had pulled into a service station at Santa Monica and Highland and left the camera running while attending to other matters. He was not aware that he had captured the Hastings car running the red light at Santa Monica Blvd.
My speculation was that Hastings ran a red light at Melrose too, and may have had to swerve to avoid traffic, leading to loss of control of the car and the subsequent crash. Nevertheless, that doesn't explain the explosion.
Video allegedly showing Hastings running a red light on Highland at Santa Monica Blvd just before the crash:
If this was Hastings' car (and there is no reason to think it isn't at this point) then it wasn't ablaze when it went through the red light at Santa Monica Blvd shortly before the crash. However, Santa Monica Blvd is about 4 and a half long blocks north of the crash site, or about half a mile. At 60 miles an hour (which was one estimate of the speed of the car) it would have been about 30 seconds before the crash.
What I want to know is where are the surveillance videos from the businesses along the route, especially at the corner of Melrose and Highland? There should be an abundance of evidence from them, but so far... not a lot has shown up.
LA Weekly is on it.
Some questions so far unanswered:
What was Hastings doing in LA? [Barrett Brown is being held in Texas. I thought Hastings lived in New York.][[LA Times says Hastings had opened Buzzfeed's LA bureau last fall.]]
What was he doing driving so fast through Hollywood at 4:00am? [Not unheardof, but still...]
What about this brand new Mercedes C250? [Not the most expensive car on the lot, but was Hastings earning enough to buy one? ]
Was he drinking and/or abusing prescription drugs again? Who can verify?
Where was he coming from and where was he going? [There is a report, apparently sourced to Russia, that he was on his way to the Israeli Consulate when his car was droned; Death From Above and all that. Why he would be going to the Israeli Consulate is unclear, but if that's what he was trying to do, he was way off the mark, as it is located far to the west, on Wilshire Blvd. The easier way to get there would be via Santa Monica Blvd, but he blew through the red light at Santa Monica and stayed on Highland which stubs out at Wilshire, but it is miles from the Israeli Consulate.]
How did the car explode?
Let's not forget that LAPD and the LA Coroner are doing the investigation. Neither has a sterling reputation for truth telling, competence, and thoroughness. Left to their gentle minstrations, we'll never find out what really happened.
Scott Johnson's obit at BuzzFeed is a doozy. In it, he explains that Hastings had moved to Los Angeles, had bought the Mercedes last month, and that he was probing the darker underbelly of Hollywood, where, he said, "dreams come to die." Yes. Well.
This is great. WikiLeaks claims Hastings contacted WL attorney hours before the crash because he was being investigated by the FBI. At first, the FBI LA office refused to confirm or deny they were investigating Hastings. Standard "no comment" comment. Then the LA Coroner positively identified Hastings from the charred remains in the car. THEN the Coroner said that they got the ID from fingerprint info from the FBI. THEN, the FBI positively, absolutely, in no uncertain terms said they weren't under any circumstances "investigating" Hastings.
Is it any wonder the tinfoil hats are on extra tight? And let's not forget that standard procedure in these cases is to issue all kinds of conflicting statements and whatnot. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.