June 21, 2013
I actually got dressed and left the house for once to visit the scene of investigative reporter Michael Hasting's fatal one-car crash southbound on Highland south of Melrose. That's on the border of Hollywood and posh Hancock Park. (To orient yourself, this is a mile south of the touristy corner of Highland and Hollywood Blvd., which is L.A.'s minor league version of Times Square's Bright Lights Big City.)
While my wife and I were standing there looking at the scorched palm tree in the grassy median of Highland that Hastings' C-class Mercedes came to rest against, I kept trying to picture the car hitting the tree, stopping immediately without skidding away, and then going up in a giant fireball (as Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill constantly assume is about to happen throughout the chase scene in "21 Jump Street"):
A blonde in a Lexus pulled up to discuss Hastings' death with us. "How could it happen?" she kept asking in her Persian accent, clearly not accepting the LAPD's "no foul play" conclusion.
This got me thinking once again about how Los Angeles is different from the rest of the country. Everywhere else, the typical conspiracy theorist is pictured as, say, Randy Quaid's character in Independence Day: a burnt-out redneck Seventies survivor.
In L.A., however, the typical conspiracy theorist is more likely a Near Eastern immigrant in a luxury car. The Persians, Arabs, Armenians, Israelis, Georgians, Bulgarians, and Russians, however, are not self-conscious about being conspiracy theorists. They don't see themselves as a despised and defiant minority. Back in the old country, nobody doubts that there are conspiracies. The only question is who can come up with the best conspiracy.
So, how could it happen?
Ironically for somebody concerned about the growth of the Surveillance State, a papparazi (that epitome of the Surveillance Society) hanging out on Santa Monica Blvd. looking for, say, drunken celebrities recorded on his dashboard video camera Hastings blowing through a red light on Highland. A few minutes later, the papp arrived at the fireball.
How Hastings wound up on the median, though, is not obvious. Highland is dead straight and has two lanes each way (but they are narrow lanes). There has been speculation about dips, speedbumps, or potholes causing him to go airborne and lose control. Perhaps, but I watched maybe 100 southbound cars on Highland cross Melrose and continue past the burnt tree. It's unusually smooth and trouble-free for a Los Angeles street.
Presumably, general reckless driving is to blame, I guess.
Brave guys tend to be brave about dumb stuff like bad driving, too. Remember how Tom Wolfe kicks off The Right Stuff by reporting that 22% of jet fighter pilots in the postwar era died before the end of their 20-year terms of service? A few hundred pages later he admits that the majority of dead peacetime fighter pilots died in car crashes. (The services would usually write it up as a line of duty death so the widow could get the higher pension, on the grounds that drinking and driving fast is all part of the fighter pilot package.)
But why the huge fire following an impact that just didn't give me the impression that the car was going all that fast when it came to rest against the tree?
I suspected the key is that Hastings' car must have hit at least one fixed object before the tree, which probably did serious damage to the Mercedes (perhaps cutting the fuel line?) and slowed the car down before it hit the tree so that it didn't bounce away.
There's currently a traffic cone sitting on the middle of the grass median about 10 or 20 meters up toward Melrose (the direction from which Hastings came). In the LoudLabs video you can see water squirting straight up into the air from this spot. I don't know if what Hastings' car knocked off was exactly a fire hydrant. It might have been something smaller, such as a metal fixture for controlling sprinklers on the median. In any case, the object perhaps did serious damage to the left side and perhaps underside of the car before the final collision with the tree, and slowed the vehicle down. (Or maybe it was just the curb, but it's not a particularly large or jutting curb. If it was just the curb that set in motion the low-end luxury car's explosion, the widow Hastings should send her lawyer to have a long talk with the Mercedes-Benz corporation.)
Or at least that's what I thought until I tried to see what exactly the obstruction was on Google Maps Streetview. Instead, I just see metal plates flat to the ground. So, maybe I don't know what happened.
By Steve Sailer on 6/21/2013