The death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings — which had been subject to irresponsible speculation and even conspiracy theories — was officially ruled an accident by the Los Angeles coroner's office on Tuesday. Hastings died of "traumatic injuries," though he had reportedly fallen back into drug use in the month before his death, with meth and marijuana found in his system.
The 33-year-old Hastings died during a single car accident in Los Angeles on the morning of June 18. Hastings was driving a Mercedes when it he lost control of the vehicle, causing it to collide with a tree planted in a median. The car subsequently caught fire; firefighters spent half andhour extracting Hastings's charred body from the fiery wreck, according to the rather gruesome coroner's report.
The report should put to rest notions that Hastings's death was some sort of government conspiracy. That rumor lingered because Hastings — who penned a profile of Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone that was responsible for the general's dismissal — was believed to have been the subject of federal law enforcement interest, a rumor that seems to have been stoked by the Julian Assange-led group WikiLeaks:
Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 19, 2013
Turns out that it was an accident, after all — and a highly tragic one at that. The coroner's report does say that Hastings's family members revealed that the BuzzFeed journalist, who had been sober for some 14 years, had recently started using drugs again. Family was supposedly traveling to Los Angeles to convince him to enter rehab.
However, according to the Los Angeles Times, drugs were not responsible for the crash itself:
Coroner's officials said Hastings had traces of amphetamine in his system, consistent with possible intake of methamphetamine many hours before death, as well as marijuana. Neither were considered a factor in the crash, according to toxicology reports.
A sad end for Hastings, whatever its reasons.