Michael Hastings-Death by Mercedes?

Mercedes 2013 C 250

Mercedes 2013 C 250

The Mercedes C 250, quite a car; one smooth, fine ride. Yes, indeed with features and goodies galore.  Let’s explore and plumb the potential of this exquisite automobile:

The Electronic Stability Program (ESP)

This safety breakthrough first introduced by Mercedes-Benz continually monitors your driving inputs and the vehicle’s motion to help keep it going in your intended direction, especially in corners and during evasive maneuvers. If it detects wheelspin, severe understeer (plowing), or oversteer (fishtailing), ESP can brake individual wheels and reduce engine power to help bring the vehicle under control.

This sounds interesting also:

Brake Assist

Brake Assist senses emergency braking via the speed at which the driver presses the brake pedal and immediately applies maximum available power boost. Brake Assist can potentially reduce the overall stopping distance by eliminating the delay caused by a common human tendency not to brake hard enough, soon enough. Letting up on the brake pedal releases Brake Assist. 

Anti-Lock Braking System

Enjoy the strong, controlled stopping power of dual-circuit power-assisted 4-wheel disc brakes, backed by an Antilock Braking System (ABS). ABS senses impending wheel lockup under heavy braking and pumps the front brakes individually or the rear brakes together. This intelligent system can pump the brakes as needed up to 30 times per second, to prevent lockup and preserve the driver’s steering ability.

Body Structure

Front End

Front End

Mercedes C250 Steel Reinforcement

Mercedes C250 Steel Reinforcement

A system of interconnected elements work together to help protect the occupants in a collision. High-strength/low-alloy (HSLA) and ultra-high-strength steel are used in critical areas such as the roof pillars, floor and roof cross members, door beams and various reinforcements throughout the body. Advanced front and rear crumple zones deform progressively to help absorb the energy of an impact, while the front bulkhead helps channel some impact forces under, over, and around the cabin.


From your car, your computer or your compatible smartphone, mbrace2™ offers the industry’s most comprehensive range of features for more connected, safe and productive drive time. From making your everyday life easier to helping out in an emergency, mbrace2 combines advanced cloud-based and GPS technology with 24-hour support from helpful experts. The mbrace hardware is standard, and a trial period for each of the three mbrace Packages is included.

source: Mercedes USA website


According to the witness named Jose, “there were sparks and flames coming from under the car in the rear even before the car crossed Melrose,  This has led to people theorizing that there may have been damage to the underside of the vehicle resulting in leaking fuel.  Here is a view of  the Mercedes C class under carriage:

Mercedes Chassis

Mercedes Chassis

In short, it’s built like a tank.  The odds of a leaking fuel line being the source of fire before the car hit the tree, if it hit the tree, are abysmally low.  For those who have hypothesized that a fuel line was cut as a result of breaching the median curb, or from running over a fire hydrant or water pipe, or as a result of “bottoming out, these are the facts:

The curb around the median is low, much lower than the sidewalk curbs making this a very unlikely scenario.  In any event, according to witness Jose, the car was on fire well before it reached the median.

Perspective shot-from water to Hastings' tree

Perspective shot-from water to Hastings’ tree

Hastings-Plastic water pipe sheared off on Highland median

Snapped off plastic water pipe-Highland Ave median

There was no fire hydrant on nor near the median.  That particular meridian did have an above ground water pipe with a valve and spigot on top, but the pipe was made of thick plastic, not metal, not cast iron.  Had it somehow been run over, it could not have done damage to the car.  It also could not have whipped through the air roughly two hundred feet and  torn a deep hash near the base of a tree.

The “bottoming out” took place after the car crossed Melrose and it had been on fire before the bouncing that Jose described.   Jose did speculate about potholes causing the Mercedes to lose control but the fact of the matter is there aren’t any.  There are no pot holes, speed bumps, dips, rises, furrows, trenches, gravel, rocks, boulders…not even pebbles.

The Mercedes Transmission

Note the length of the drive train.  A relatively short portion of this long. pipe-like structure  stayed with the engine/transmission that sailed over to the corner of Clinton Ave. and Highland (north bound).

Mercedes transmission installation

Mercedes transmission installation

Mercedes transmission

Mercedes transmission

The Mercedes transmission is a rather hefty component.  Note the heavy plating of the under belly.

Hastings engine/transmission corner of Clinton Ave

Hastings engine/transmission corner of Clinton Ave

Engine/transmission at Clinton Ave.

Engine/transmission at Clinton Ave.

Remote Control of Hastings’ Mercedes?

Why would a young man described by his friends as someone who “drove like a grand ma” be driving his beautiful, new Mercedes so recklessly at such an extraordinary rate of speed down a residential street at a pre-dawn hour?  It is really difficult to explain.  Witnesses said that no one was following him, no one was chasing him.  So, what are the possible explanations?

The usual suspects in such matters are drugs and alcohol.  Hastings had given those up at least five years prior.  This explanation is not likely.  He was driving straight on a very straight road.  No weaving was reported by any of the witnesses.

Sadly, remote control of a Mercedes is possible and there are so many ways that this might have been accomplished.  A man who authored one of two major studies on this possibility wrote:

“There’s quite a bit of misinformation on this topic on all sides. Let me offer my 0.02 as one of the authors of those two studies. First, I don’t see any particular reason to believe that this car crash (or any particular car crash) is due to cyber attack. Absent other evidence it doesn’t pass the Occam’s Razor test. Second (and contrary the the headline of a recent Salon article on the subject) taking over a car’s computer systems is not “easy”. Its quite difficult to get working reliably and the research needs to be specialized to each individual platform targeted — a significant piece of work. Third, on the other hand, I think the debunkers are minimizing the potential for problem in this domain. There are in fact a whole bunch of digital channels that have the potential reach internal buses (directly or indirectly) in modern vehicles, including not only tire pressure and cellular telematics, but also bluetooth, keyless entry, WiFi (in many models), digital FM, RDS, USB and CD media, charging (for electric cars), aftermarket devices (e.g., the Progressive dongle), and so on (soon to be joined by DSRC) — many of which are wireless. Fourth, while our work is always prefaced with “in the lab”, it is worth understanding that we’re not taking about ‘white lab coats up on a bench’ here. We were able to demonstrate a remote takeover (i.e., absolutely no physical access) of an unmodified vehicle over a thousand miles away after which we were able to track the car, listen in to conversations, turn off the brakes, cause a skid, etc… basically reflash any unit. Any safeguards in place go out the window once you start running your own code on a given ECU. While I think I speak for our whole group when I say that we don’t believe such attacks are imminent threats for any of us normal people (you’re much more likely to die because the schmuck behind you was texting at the wheel and didn’t notice you braking), I also think its not something that is totally off in Sci-Fi land either. Moreover, the genie is out of the bottle and the number of groups now developing this expertise is just growing (e.g., Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have a DEFCON talk coming up looking at infiltrating a different set of vehicles). This is why there is now real and significant work going on in the OEM community to harden their electronic systems. Do I think Michael Hastings was killed via hacking? Seems pretty unlikely to me. But I think the detractors may go too far in minimizing the problem here.” Stefan Savage

Note that Savage says that “taking over a car’s computer systems is not “easy”. Its quite difficult to get working reliably and the research needs to be specialized to each individual platform targeted”.  Therefore, is it not likely that only one function may have been “hacked” or over-ridden?  If you simply take over the throttle, the rest takes care of itself.

To be continued

If you missed part one:


"The facts, ma'am, just the facts:"

“The facts, ma’am, just the facts:”