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Journalist Michael Hastings died instantly in crash, coroner says

Michael Hastings died as his family was preparing to do an intervention over concerns of drug abuse, coroner says. Traces of drugs were found in his system.

August 20, 2013|By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein
  • Journalist Michael Hastings died instantly of blunt-force trauma when he crashed into a tree on June 18, the coroner said.
Journalist Michael Hastings died instantly of blunt-force trauma when… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Ending two months of speculation and conspiracy theories about the death of journalist Michael Hastings, the Los Angeles County coroner has determined that the reporter died instantly from "massive blunt force trauma" in the fiery June crash.

The coroner's report, released Tuesday, painted a troubled portrait of the journalist, whose 2010 Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal led to McChrystal's resignation.

Traces of drugs were found in Hastings' system, and the crash apparently came hours before his family planned to stage an intervention. Hastings, according to the report, was an alcoholic who had been sober for years before beginning to take drugs about a month earlier.

Toxicology reports showed amphetamine — an indicator of recent methamphetamine use — and marijuana, though not in amounts likely to be a factor in the crash.

His family told investigators that Hastings used medical marijuana, prescribed for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted from assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan. A medical marijuana card was found in Hastings' wallet.

Relatives also believed he was using DMT, a hallucinogenic. One person told an investigator he wouldn't be surprised if cocaine were found in Hastings system; it was not.

Hastings, according to the report, had struggled with substance abuse. His family said he had kicked an alcohol problem about 14 years earlier.

One relative had arrived in Los Angeles from New York the day before the accident, with his brother scheduled to arrive later on the day of the crash "as his family was attempting to get [Hastings] to go to detox," the report stated.

Hastings had previously been institutionalized for rehabilitative care in 1999.

His family told detectives that Hastings had been in a traffic accident in which he crashed into a pole several years ago, and that he may have been abusing Ritalin.

Hastings was not known to be suicidal, but did consider himself " 'invincible,' believing he could jump from a balcony and would be OK," according to the report.

He was last seen "passed out" by a relative between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. June 18, hours before the crash, which occurred just before 5 a.m.

In an interview earlier this month with CNN, Hastings' widow, Elise Jordan, called the crash a "really tragic accident." She told the network's Piers Morgan that she didn't "really have anything to add" to the ongoing police investigation into the crash that took her husband's life.

"You know, my gut here was that it was just a really tragic accident, and I'm very unlucky, and the world was very unlucky," Jordan said.

After his death, many people floated conspiracy theories, including speculation that he was being followed by the FBI or that his car had been sabotaged.

The theories prompted the FBI to release a statement: "At no time was journalist Michael Hastings ever under investigation by the FBI."

At the time of his death, Hastings was living in Los Angeles and working for the website BuzzFeed, contributing to its entertainment coverage and as a correspondent-at-large.

richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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