Death of Rolling Stone “Muckracker”: The Michael Hastings Wreck–Video Evidence Only Deepens the Mystery
Or was it?
Michael Krikorian, an essayist and former Los Angeles Times crime reporter, happened upon the scene a few hours after journalist Michael Hastings’s speeding car slammed into a palm tree and burst into a fireball.
Krikorian has seen his share of fatal car wrecks. But this one was different. As he put it, “This demands a closer examination.”
In accident-investigation parlance, it was a roadway departure–a non-intersection crash in which a vehicle leaves the traveled way for some reason.
But how and why did Hastings’s Mercedes depart the traveled way, and why was it traveling so perilously fast?
In a city where there seem to be as many car wrecks as cars, North Highland Avenue in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood is not exactly Dead Man’s Curve. A fatal car accident there is rare.
Highland is a four-lane neighborhood artery as straight as a laser, with a narrow, grassy median lined with towering Washingtonia robusta palms. In the two miles between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, not a single traffic fatality was recorded on Highland from 2001 to 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. http://map.itoworld.com/road-casualties-usa#fullscreen 
In the final moments of Michael Hastings’s life, the car he was operating accelerated to a treacherous speed before swerving off the pavement, mounting the median and slamming into one of the palms. There were no skid marks—no apparent attempt to brake before the collision.
Image: Courtesy of Blue Rider Press/Penguin
Hastings, 33, covered the Iraq War as a young correspondent for Newsweek. But he made front-page news (and won the prestigious George Polk journalism prize) for his 2010 Rolling Stone magazine profile of “The Runaway General,” Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO’s security force in Afghanistan. Hastings’s story portrayed the dismissive contempt with which McChrystal and his staff viewed President Obama and Vice President Biden. The general apologized, calling the profile “a mistake reflecting poor judgment.” But he was forced to resign.
Michael Hastings was carving out a journalism niche as a muckraker, and some see nefarious forces at work in his death.
We asked Michael Krikorian for his take on the curious accident, which happened in his hometown on a block he visits several times a week. He provides the details of new video evidence that offers a few clues about the seemingly inexplicable fatality.—David J. Krajicek
By Michael Krikorian
Shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 18, I was walking with my girlfriend, Nancy Silverton, to get my car, which I had left the night before at her restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, at Highland and Melrose avenues. Walking west on Melrose, we noticed crime scene tape as we arrived at Highland. Just to the south, a wrecked and charred car was being pulled away from a palm tree in the median.
We lifted the yellow tape and walked down the sidewalk to get access to the alley leading to the lot where my car was parked. A Los Angeles police officer stopped us. Nancy explained she owned the restaurant and I identified myself as a reporter. The officer let us walk on and gave a quick rundown: A man had driven into the tree at 4:30 that morning. He was dead.
My first thought was that another early morning L.A. drunk had killed himself. I told the officer that a security camera located outside the front door of the pizzeria probably captured the crash.
As we talked to the police, a Mozza employee named Gary, who has been staying at a small apartment above the restaurant, approached us to say that he had heard the crash.
“I heard a ‘whoosh,’ then what sounded like a bump and then an explosion,” he said. “I thought the building had been hit.”
He said he rushed down and saw the car ablaze. Gary listened as two men who claimed to have witnessed the crash told police the car had sped through a red light at Melrose.
Later, when the pizzeria manager arrived at work, we watched the security camera footage. There’s no wonder it was a fatality. The crash ended with a hellish explosion and fire. The officer, watching the video with us, was as stunned as we were. He said, “I have never seen a car explode like that.”
Soon, a flatbed truck with the burned Mercedes CL 250 aboard drove slowly by, going north in the southbound lanes of Highland. The front of the car, particularly on the driver’s side, was badly damaged. I snapped a couple of poor photos with my iPhone.
The Man Who Brought Down General McChrystal
Nancy and I got in my car and went home. I went on to Watts to do some reporting on another story and later to Gardena. That afternoon, I got an email from a friend to whom I had mentioned the crash. It included a link to an L.A. Times story about the wreck. My friend wrote, “The driver was a well-known journalist: Michael Hastings. What a drag. Obviously a talented guy. Wonder why he was driving so fast?”
I went online and read about Michael Hastings, the guy who brought down General McChrystal. The conspiracy theories were already being spun on the web: that a bomb had been planted in the car, or that its controls had been hacked and the crash was engineered remotely by an unseen hand.
For nearly five years, McChrystal served as chief of the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s commando units, including the Army Delta Force and the Navy Seals. This was not a paper-pushing general. McChrystal was a soldier’s general who would go on raids with his men. A reporter brings him down—and then dies in a mysterious crash three years later. If this had happened in Russia, wouldn’t we all figure it was some dark military conspiracy?
I’m not a conspiracy guy, but my reporter’s instincts told me that this demands a closer examination. So I snooped around.
Mysteries on the Video Tape
“I’ve never seen an explosion like that,” said Terry Hopkins, 46, a former U.S. Navy military policeman who served in Afghanistan, told me. “I’ve seen military vehicles explode, but never quite like that. Look, here’s a reporter who brought down a general. He’s sending out emails saying he’s being watched. It’s four in the morning and his car explodes? Come on, you have to be naïve not to at least consider it wasn’t an accident.”
I turned to the one piece of evidence I had: the security camera footage.
The camera shows the view from near the entrance of Pizzeria Mozza.
Four seconds into the start of the tape, a minivan or SUV goes by the front of restaurant. Three seconds later, another vehicle goes by, traveling from the restaurant front door to the crash site in about seven seconds. At 35 seconds into the tape, a car is seen driving northbound and appears to slow, probably for the light at Melrose.
Then at 79 seconds, the camera catches a very brief flash of light in the reflection of the glass of the pizzeria. Traveling at least twice as fast as the other cars on the tape, Hastings’s Mercedes C250 coupe suddenly whizzes by. (This is probably the “whoosh” that Gary, the Mozza employee, heard.)
The car swerves and then explodes in a brilliant flash as it hits a palm tree in the median. Viewed at normal speed, it is a shocking scene—reminiscent of fireballs from “Shock and Awe” images from Baghdad in 2003.
I have heard and read a wide range of guessed speeds, up to as much as 130 mph. I think it’s safe to say the car was doing at least 80.
Driving 80 on Highland is flying. Over 100 is absolute recklessness.
Highland has a very slight rise and fall at its intersection with Melrose. It’s difficult to tell by the film, but based on tire marks—which were not brake skid marks, by the way—chalked by the traffic investigators, it seems that the Mercedes may have been airborne briefly as it crossed the intersection, then landed hard. Tire marks were left about 10 feet east of the restaurant’s valet stand.
(Later, I drove the intersection at just 45 mph, and my car rose up significantly.)
About 100 feet after the car zooms by on the tape, it starts to swerve. At about 195 feet from the camera, the car jumps the curb of the center median, heading toward a palm tree 56 feet away.
About halfway between the curb and the tree, the car hits a metal protrusion—perhaps 30 inches tall and 2 feet wide—that gives access to city water mains below. This is where the first small flash occurs. This pipe may have damaged the undercarriage of the car, perhaps rupturing a fuel line.
I looked at the tape frame by frame. A second flash immediately follows the first. It might be the brake lights, but it’s hard to tell. The next frame is dark. Then comes the first explosion, followed immediately by a large fireball.
I showed the video to a number of people. Everyone had the same reaction: essentially, “Wow!”
“This Was Not a Bomb”
I showed the video to Scott E. Anderson, an Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor with Digital Sandbox who has engineered explosions for many films.
He viewed the footage more than 20 times at various speeds, including frame by frame. Anderson concluded, “This was not a bomb.”
He said a bomb would have propelled the car upward, not forward.
“It’s very hard to blow up stuff well,” Anderson said. “I think too many things would have to go right. Luck would be involved. Good and bad. Does someone doing this to Hastings want to rely on luck? Too many things have to go right. It would have to be perfect. And that’s almost impossible.”
He continued, “It comes down to physics. A bomb would have lifted the car and the engine up. Based on this video, the car doesn’t go up, and the engine goes forward, which makes sense since the car apparently did not hit the tree head on.”
He said the fireball may be enhanced by the recording device.
“That type of surveillance camera has auto exposure so it can change what it sees based by the ambient exposure day or night,” Anderson explained. “This camera is set at night and anything that happens very quickly, be it a flash light or a big ball of fire, the camera won’t react fast enough, so the first flash of light is going to appear much bigger in the viewing. So the initial explosion would always look bigger than it is.”
He suggested a simple demonstration using a cellphone video app: Strike a match in a dark room and it will flare up on camera much more than in reality.
Why Was He Driving So Fast?
The pizzeria video is compelling, but it fails to answer the key question: Why was Michael Hastings traveling so fast?
As Anderson put it, “None of this happens without the speed.”
Some theorize that the car was hacked—operated remotely (like a drone, for example) by someone who wished to harm Hastings.
That may be technologically possible, but is it plausible?
Hastings ran at least two red lights, and possibly a third. Could a hacker have planned for no cross traffic, which might have derailed the mission? If the flash before the dark frame was indeed brakes, that would indicate the brake light was functional. If the car were hurtling along out of his control, wouldn’t Hastings have been plying the brake pedal all along, not merely in the last second before the crash?
And even if the brakes and accelerator were rigged, the steering must have been functional, according to a Los Angeles Police Department officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “For nearly a half a mile, that car must have been going straight,” the officer said. “That can’t be done at that speed for that long, even with the best alignment.”
“Stanley Got Him”
The day after the crash, I found myself in the homicide squad room in South Los Angeles. The Hastings topic came up, and one of the detectives said, “Stanley got him. Took his time, but got him. That wasn’t an accident.” (Meaning General Stanley McChrystal.)
On cue, a sign showed up the next day on the now-singed Hasting’s Palm: “This was not an accident.” By nightfall, someone had replaced it with another message: “Go to sleep people. This was an accident.”
Hastings’s death was national news briefly, but it was soon pushed aside by subjects deemed more pressing to the mainstream media. The George Zimmerman homicide trial was gearing up in Florida. Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, was playing Tom Hanks at a Moscow Airport. Istanbul had erupted in the biggest anti-government protests in its history, and political strife in Cairo was taking center stage.
Michael Hastings was put on the mainstream media’s back burner—or perhaps on an unlit hibachi behind the garage.
But on YouTube the conspiracy thrived. One video that has received over 8,500 views proclaimed that the plot was so over-the-top that the culprits had removed the bombed car, and in the process, placed another car in front of different trees. It also stated there was no damage to the front of the car.
I saw the car being towed away. It was absolutely mangled on the front, particularly the driver’s side. I’ve lived in Los Angeles most of my life and have seen the aftermath of many car crashes. This was one of the worst. There was no way a driver could have survived.
LAPD Traffic Bureau: ‘No Foul Play’
Two days after the crash, the LAPD announced that there appeared to be no “foul play” in the single-car fatal crash. That ignited even more conspiracy talk: The “feds” had gotten to the LAPD and were hushing it up.
A week after that statement, the lead investigator on the case, Detective Connie White from LAPD’s West Traffic Bureau, contradicted that. When I asked her if “foul play” had indeed been ruled out, she replied, “No. Nothing has been ruled out.”
White said the investigation was nearly complete, but she refused to give details. She said an official report, including toxicology results on Hastings’s remains, may be weeks away.
As far as a bomb or car-hacking, White said, “At this point there is nothing that leads us in that direction.”
When asked if any explosive materials had been discovered on the car or at the crash scene, White sounded like she chuckled.
She said, “Oh, boy. Hold on.”
I thought maybe I had asked a touchy question, and I expected a “no comment.” But she returned to the phone and said, “No.” The way she said it, I wondered if she had shared a laugh with other detectives about my question.
She added, “If this were anything other than an accident, other departments would have been brought in to investigate,” alluding to homicide, the bomb squad or a terrorism unit. (Though one might think “other departments” would have been needed in any case–simply to determine whether it was an accident or not.)
On TV, Hastings Provokes another General
I’ve seen a number of people use the word “fearless” to describe Hastings. The word has different meanings to different people. To some, it might be how well someone held up in the second battle of Fallujah.
I have no idea how Hasting was in the trenches. But I watched him in action on Piers Morgan’s CNN show last November against retired General David Kimmit, an admirer of General David Petraeus. At one point, Kimmit told Hastings that his impressions about Iraq after Petraeus were wrong. Kimmit added that he knew this because he has been back to Iraq, working in the private sector.
Exasperated, Hasting threw up his hands, gave his unique smirk and proclaimed, “I’ve spent more time in Iraq than you have, man.”
Hastings went on to chide Kimmit for profiting off the war in the private sector. “I’m glad the general was able to make money off his services,” he said.
In that TV vignette, I could see why a guy like Hastings would piss off the military brass and would be so admired by fellow journalists.
I hope that someone will be able to explain why Hastings’s Mercedes was speeding like a silver bullet. Maybe the answer will show up in the toxicology results. I know this much: American journalism has lost a pit bull of an investigative reporter.
Prosecutors must prove that Pfc. Bradley Manning “had reason to believe” that the classified material he provided to WikiLeaks would harm the nation, a military judge ruled Wednesday — offering the Pentagon and the Obama administration an opportunity to bring an end to a prosecution that has become an exercise in overkill.
Manning, the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst in Iraq, pleaded guilty in February to 10 charges, including possessing classified information and transferring it to an unauthorized person. The plea alone could subject him to 20 years in prison, but the government wasn’t satisfied. It continues to charge him with multiple violations of the Espionage Act and of “aiding the enemy.” Conviction on the more serious charges could put him in prison for life.
To Manning’s supporters, he is a valiant whistle-blower; they often cite the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed 12 civilians in Baghdad that Manning provided to WikiLeaks. His detractors argue that his actions sprang as much from personal problems as from altruism and that his indiscriminate document dump went way beyond identifying war crimes, undermining national security and the conduct of diplomacy.
Even if Manning was engaged in principled civil disobedience, he must face the consequences that await anyone who violates the law in a supposedly higher cause. But the current charges against him go too far.
In arguing that Manning aided the enemy, the government’s case apparently will rest on the assertion that some WikiLeaks material made its way to a digital device found in the possession of Osama bin Laden. This is an ominously broad interpretation. By the government’s logic, the New York Times could be accused of aiding the enemy if Bin Laden possessed a copy of the newspaper that included the WikiLeaks material it published.
As for the Espionage Act charges, the judge, Col. Denise Lind, ruled that the prosecution must prove that Manning had “reason to believe” that providing computer files to WikiLeaks would harm the nation; it wouldn’t be enough simply to show that he knew he was disclosing classified information. Whether this ruling would make conviction of Manning significantly harder isn’t clear. But it could make it easier for the government to announce that pursuing the additional charges wouldn’t be productive — a graceful exit that would still leave Manning facing considerable time in prison.
Synopsis: Findings seem to point to a region of the brain commonly referred to as the ‘God Spot’ or ‘God Module‘, that when stimulated creates hallucinations that are interpreted as mystical or spiritual experiences. This ‘spot’ is stimulated during meditation and prayer and is affected by electromagnetic fields and epilepsy. The resulting hallucinations may be the cause of mystical, spiritual and paranormal experiences as they can give feelings such as a presence in the room or an out of body experience. In the case of epileptics, this may be the reason for many of them becoming obsessed with religion. For those who experience the stimulation it is explained related to their own personal beliefs; a visit from an angel or lost loved one, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness or a visit from God.
Scientists, philosophers and atheists have long argued that God and spirituality are constructs of the human mind, although that opinion generally hasn’t been a popular one. After centuries of bloody holy wars and fierce theological dispute, the controversy of the Creator’s existence has taken a strange new turn: humanity may finally have uncovered tangible evidence that the phenomenon of religious faith is all in our heads.
A group of neuroscientists at the University of California at San Diego has identified a region of the human brain that appears to be linked to thoughts of spiritual matters and prayer. Their findings tentatively suggest that we as a species are genetically programmed to believe in God.
The researchers came upon these cerebral revelations in the course of studying the brain patterns of certain people with epilepsy. Epileptics who suffer a particular type of seizure are often intensely religious, and are known to report an unusual number of spiritually-oriented visions and obsessions. Measurements of electrical activity in the brains of test subjects indicated a specific neural center in the temporal lobe that flared up at times when the subjects thought about God. This same area was also a common focal point overloaded with electrical discharges during their epileptic seizures.
Could this heretofore unidentified part of the brain — nicknamed the “God module” — actually be some sort of physiological seat of religious belief? The scientists who discovered it believe it might be. They have performed a further study comparing epileptic subjects with different groups of non-epileptics — a random group of average people, as well as individuals who characterized themselves as extremely religious. The electrical brain activity of the subjects was recorded while they were shown a series of words, and the God module zones of the epileptics and the religious group exhibited similar responses to words involving God and faith. No word yet on whether the brains of atheists and agnostics might flatline the monitors, but the parallel results among the strong believers are considered impressive.
“There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion,” the research team announced at a conference for the Society for Neuroscience. “This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society.”
Anthropologists and Darwinian theorists have frequently speculated that religion may have developed as a self-policing mechanism as cooperation with others became useful. With their intelligence and skills at making weapons, there was little to stop early humans from slaughtering each other like wild maniacs, until they began to fear unseen beings even bigger and badder than themselves. This sort of adaptation has always been considered a purely psychological function, but now we have the first evidence that the religious instinct may be physically hard-wired right into our noggins.
Which brings us to the most intriguing conundrum posed by the discovery of the God Spot. It’s a double-edged sword shoved right through the heart of the science vs. religion debate, bearing either good news or bad news for the faithful masses depending on how you answer the chicken-or-the-egg question: does it mean that God created our brains, or that our brains created God?
“These studies do not in any way negate the validity of religious experience or God,” the God module’s discoverers took care to note, plainly anticipating a reception of fire and brimstone from certain quarters. “They merely provide an explanation in terms of brain regions that may be involved.”
No matter how inconclusive or sketchy they label their findings as being, these scientists will inevitably be denounced as heathenistic blasphemers doing the work of Satan. Yet at the very same time, other equally devout worshipers will praise this discovery as a beautiful and wondrous epiphany that spells out God’s great plan.
So what’ll it be? A sacred temple in the temporal lobes, or an incidental conflagration of the synapses? The Kingdom of Heaven confined to the insides of our skulls, or “I think of God, therefore He is”? Touched in the head by an angel, or brainwashed into belief by biology?
Believe what you want, but either way, I think those who draw any serious mechanistic or teleological conclusions from this research ought to have their heads examined, as well.
by D. Trull
Sources: The Times (London); The Los Angeles Times
Could Mitt Romney Actually Become President Early This Year? If You Believe the Los Angeles Times, Yes.
Yeh. You read the title right
Imagine if Barack Obama was feeling under the weather on January 20thand Mitt Romney jumped in and insisted that we needed to overturn Barack Obama’s November 6, 2012 victory and do the election all over. Imagine that the L.A. Times and the mass media agreed. Joe Biden might try to do damage control by holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution and pointing out that the swearing-in ceremony is merely a formality and that Obama could simply take his oath at a later date when he is feeling better. After all, he is currently President and has previously taken the oath. Obama won the Presidential election last fall by a huge margin (though not as big of a margin as that by which Hugo Chavez defeated Henrique Capriles). If you listen to the legal scholars connected to the Los Angeles Times, too bad for Obama but a no-show could mean he’s out and Mitt has another crack at the Presidency. In anticipation of the possibility, perhaps Mitt and his buddy Paul Ryan ought to get out those phone lists and prepare their supporters to rush back to the polls.
Even if it was Mitt who sent Obama the FDA-approved GMO dinner on the 19th that upset his stomach enough to make Barack miss the ceremony, Mitt wouldn’t be considered insensitive by the modern-day press about Barack’s health by trying to steal the government, America’s resources and the gold (if any is left) at Fort Knox on behalf of himself and his rich backers. According to the reasoning of the L.A. Times legal scholars, Mitt and company apparently have the right to a brand new Presidential election in the next month if Barack can’t make that formal ceremony.
This reasoning behind the above Romney takeover scenario makes about as much sense as the reasoning espoused by Henrique Capriles and his small band of thugs, who are calling for new elections in Venezuela should Hugo Chavez need to postpone his inaugural ceremony in the interests of protecting his health. According to Capriles, his gang of racketeers, and the Los Angeles Times, even if leaving his hospital bed early kills Chavez, a Constitutional crisis will arise if Chavez postpones the ceremony, which is taking place in his honor. Obama should watch out. His inauguration is only ten days later and the Times might not be any more forgiving of his postponing than of Chavez’s postponing. Perhaps, Obama should start boycotting the Los Angeles Times in the interest of protecting his own election victory.
The Los Angeles Times is not the only news service going to absurd lengths to help overturn legitimately elected governments. The news media and the Government of the United States seem to have gone out of control quite some time back in an effort to overturn democracy in as many places as possible.
The news media lied big time about what was happening in Libya so that British Petroleum and the United States could orchestrate a very violent coup in order to steal that country’s oil. The media falsely claimed that Muammar Gaddafi was attacking his own people and that they needed protection. Never mind that eye witnesses to what was really happening on the ground at the claimed locations said that nothing of that sort was taking place and that the media was flat out lying. News services copied fake stories from each other and sold non-existent events as facts. The events in the movie, Wag the Dog, had more basis in reality than the news stories pushing the war on Libya. Former Congresswoman and Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney went to Libya and saw what was going on and then traveled around the United States to try to educate the people, here, on the truth. Though the auditoriums presenting her were packed with people eager for facts, the news media refused to let their own audiences in the truth.
Something similar happened on the Friday of the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident when Adam Lanza’s mother was said to be a kindergarten teacher and the media reported that Lanza shot his father before going to the school. They also said the brother was arrested at the scene. Fake stories were copied from other false stories until the version of events that emerged that day left the whole country in confusion and wondering what really happened.
According to the experts in the Government of Venezuela, Article 231 of the Venezuelan Constitution allows Hugo Chavez to take the oath late and does not require him to attend the ceremony on the 10th to retain his position as President. A member of the opposition was provided with his own copy of the Venezuelan Constitution during a recent Assembly session or rather (according to the opposition) it was thrown at him. The opposition still doesn’t seem to have taken the time to read it.
On January 8th, the National Assembly erupted in a standing ovation after passing a measure affirming that Hugo Chavez could remain President and be away from the country for as long as necessary to deal with his illness. The Supreme Court plans to speak on this issue on January 9th.
The failure of Barack Obama to take a firm stand in support of Venezuela’s democratic election outcome in 2012 is a sign that Obama, himself, has qualms about democracy being the best form of government. Americans, themselves are wondering why Obama has turned the nation over to the Republicans and is nominating Republicans for cabinet posts when the Democrats won the 2012 election. There is an old quote from Winston Churchill that, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others” ”
The citizens of Venezuela are planning to take to the streets on January 10th in support of their President Hugo Chavez. Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino of Ecuador have confirmed that they will also be present on the 10th in support of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan people.
So, even if Mitt is searching for the right kind of bad food to feed Barack on January 19th, it may not help him if the United States follows the example of Venezuela and supports the result of the 2012 Presidential election, regardless of when and where the formality of the oath takes place.
Special Note: This article was inspired by the following Facebook post by Bob Witanek. “Could you imagine if Obama were to be sick for his own inauguration and had to be hospitalized – and Cuba and Venezuela were making noise that he would have to be deposed accordingly? What a joke!-”