Controversy Was Karen Silkwood Murdered Part 2

About the controversy surrounding the death of Karen Silkwood, history and exploration of whether or not her death was murder.




Her Death: Shortly after six o'clock that evening, Silkwood left a union meeting at the Hub Cafe in Crescent to meet with the Times reporter and Steve Wodka in Oklahoma City, about 30 mi. away. She was driving her white Honda Civic about 50 mph down Highway 74 when the car went off the left side of the road, ran 240 to 270 ft. along a ditch, and hit the south wall of a concrete culvert. The car traveled approximately 24 ft. into the air, then crashed on the culvert's north wall at about 45 mph. Silkwood died instantly.

Official Version: The Oklahoma State Highway Patrol ruled that Silkwood had fallen asleep at the wheel and drifted off the left side of the road to her death. Although a drifting car tends to pull to the right, a 1974 Consumer Reports review of the Honda Civic Hatchback described its tendency during acceleration "to lunge and pull to the left." The patrol also cites an autopsy report showing that methaqualone, a sleep-inducing drug prescribed for Silkwood to combat stress, was present in her blood, stomach, and liver. This explains why Silkwood made no effort to apply the brakes or veer away from the concrete culvert. A dent discovered in the car's rear bumper was said to have been caused by the wrecker that dragged the Honda over the concrete wall. Later, Justice Dept. and FBI investigations agreed that there was no foul play, and two congressional subcommittees subsequently dropped their investigations.

Theories and Unanswered Questions: The union's accident investigator found that the Honda's tire tracks showed that the car had skidded violently off the left side of the highway, then had straightened and driven along the shoulder for nearly 100 yd. He cites this as evidence that Silkwood was prevented from returning to the highway by the presence of another car. Not until she saw the culvert did she frantically try to steer the car back onto the road. The investigator argues that a drifting car would have veered into a field before it reached the culvert, and that the highway's center-line crest would have deflected a drifting car to the right, not the left. The "drifting car" theory is also disputed by eight independent toxicologists interviewed separately by investigating reporters. They agreed that Silkwood had built up such a tolerance to methaqualone that the small amount of the drug found in her body would not have lulled her to sleep. An auto-crash expert hired by OCAW found that the dent in the car's rear bumper resulted from "contact between two metal surfaces." Under magnification, the dent showed scratch marks leading from the rear of the car toward the front, an indication that the car had been struck.

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