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.
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.”