He set the letter aside and removed the police reports. When he read them, he thought their historical features were noteworthy. They told as much about the time in which they were written as they did about the traffic accidents they recorded. At the very least, Harrison felt he was holding a bit of history in his hands, as if he werethe scholar that all of his professors had hoped he would become. He turned over the details of the five articles again in his mind.
In 1949, Tucson motorist and tradesman Willis Jackson died after the car he was driving plunged over a cliff west of town. Investigators determined that the accident was due to brake failure in his ’34 De Soto Airflow.
A year later, Howard Webster, truck driver, suffered fatal injuries when his vehicle lost control on a highway in Killeen, Texas. Webster’s accident partially ejected his body through the windshield after a blown tire caused his truck to spin and roll into a cattle yard.
Gary McDonald, construction foreman, encountered a similar fate in 1951. Near Albuquerque, a tire blew out on his Pontiac, sending it into a roadside ditch. McDonald’s severe head injury and internal bleeding did not cause his immediate death. An attachment to the original report indicated that, after lingering in unconsciousness for three days, his heart simply stopped beating.
Another victim, George Fairfield, drowned in 1947. Authorities listed inclement Seattle weather, high speed, and drunkenness as the reasons for the accident. Fairfield’s new Studebaker careened off a waterfront pier, where he worked as a fisherman.
In the final case, Mike Pullman, actor, died in 1948 when he drove his agent’s Lincoln Continental Cabriolet through a guardrail on the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles. No skid marks. No evidence of mechanical failure. Investigators concluded that he simply must have fallen asleep at the wheel.
The sun reached through the driver’s-side window into Harrison’s rental car, just enough to cause uncomfortable glare on the white photocopied reports. He traded them for his sunglasses and another cigarette, which went unlit. Increasing the radio’s volume came first.
Traffic, Friday traffic, slowed progress on the southbound lanes of the 405 Freeway. He needed to leave for LAX in a few minutes.
Harrison lit the cigarette and latched his seatbelt. He tugged on it twice to make sure he had properly secured it. When he drove out of the parking lot, and the Griffith Observatory receded in the rearview mirror, he double-checked the car’s brakes. Good response. No squeaks. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands. The Chevrolet also had an airbag.
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