Mere hours before the fiery car crash that took his life, journalist Michael Hastings sent an email to friends and colleagues urging them to get legal counsel if they were approached by federal authorities.
“Hey [redacted] the Feds are interviewing my ‘close friends and associates,'” read the message dated June 17 at 12:56 p.m. from Hastings to editors at the website BuzzFeed, where he worked.
“Perhaps if the authorities arrive ‘BuzzFeed GQ’, er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our news-gathering practices or related journalism issues.”
Hastings added that he was onto a big story and that he would, “need to go off the radat [radar] for a bit,” according to KTLA in Los Angeles.
Fifteen hours later, in the early morning of June 18, Hastings was driving a Mercedes C250 at a high speed when he lost control in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park neighborhood, causing the car to fishtail and crash into a palm tree. The impact caused the car to burst into flames, trapping the 33-year-old inside.
Conspiracy theories surrounding Hastings’ death began to circulate almost immediately.
On Twitter and several sites across the web, speculation was rampant that the death of Hastings — whose 2010 article for Rolling Stone led to the resignation of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then head of the U.S. operation in Afghanistan — was no accident.
Also Friday, WikiLeaks released two messages on Twitter that added fuel to the fire.
“Michael Hastings’ death has a very serious non-public complication. We will have more details later,” said the first. Two hours later, WikiLeaks tweeted more specific information.
“Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him,” the second message read.
It was speculated by others that Hastings was working on a story about Drone Surveillance in the U.S.
LAPD officials said on Friday that no foul play was suspected in the fatal accident, although that did little to quell theories about his death.
Investigators are trying to determine whether there was a mechanical problem with the car, according to the Los Angeles Times. The car burst into flames after hitting a tree in the one-car accident at 4:20 a.m. Law enforcement sources said the car was believed to have been traveling at a high rate of speed.