Prosaic Explanations: The Failure Of UFO Skepticism
The Case of the Damaged Police Car
The first example of
a case for which Klass' proposed prosaic explanation is wrong,
or, at best, unconvincing, is the rather traumatic experience
of police officer Val Johnson of Warren, Minnesota. (See the
above reference, page 223). Shortly after 1:30 a.m., August 27,
1979, as he was cruising the countryside in his police car in
an area of low population, he noticed a bright light that he
could see through the trees of a small wooded area. Thinking
it might be a landed airplane carrying illegal drugs from Canada,
he accelerated along a road toward the area of the light. Suddenly
this light moved rapidly toward his car. He heard a noise of
breaking glass and lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness,
he was leaning forward with his head against the top of the steering
wheel. There was a red mark on his forehead which suggests that
he might have bumped his head on the wheel hard enough to render
him unconscious (he said he was not wearing his seatbelt at the
time). After regaining consciousness he called the police station.
It was 2:19 a.m.. He had been unconscious for about 40 minutes.
He reported that something had "attacked" his car.
When another officer
arrived on the scene a few minutes after Johnson's report, he
found Johnson's car nearly 90 degrees to the road (blocking the
road) and skid marks nearly 100 ft long. Johnson was found in
a distraught condition, in a state of shock. He said he recalled
seeing the bright light rushing toward his police car and he
recalled hearing breaking glass. The next thing he recalled was
realizing he was sitting with his head on the steering wheel.
He did not recall skidding to a stop. He complained about pain
in his eyes and was taken to a doctor who could find no eye damage.
He did not complain of a headache.
Of particular importance
is damage to the police car. One of the two glass headlight covers
on the driver's side had been broken; there was a large crack
in the windshield on the driver's side; a plastic cover on the
light bar on top of the car had a hole in it; there was a dent
in the top of the hood, and two of the three spring-mounted antennas
were bent 60 or more degrees, with the bend occurring over a
short distance (i.e., sharp bends). Examination of the antenna
surfaces using a microscope showed that the insect matter ("bug
tar") that coated the antennas was "stretched"
at the bend, but there was no other disturbance of the insect
matter. Evidently the antennas had not been scraped or rubbed
when they were bent. Also, the electric clock in the car and
Johnson's mechanical wristwatch both read fourteen minutes slow,
although Johnson was certain he had set both before he had begun
his nightly patrol.
The damage to the car
was physical evidence that something strange had taken place.
Careful studies of the damage were made by the police department
and by scientists working with the Center for UFO Studies. They
could find no evidence or reason to believe that Johnson had
damaged his own car. They could find no prosaic explanation for
the sighting. Klass also investigated the sighting. He spoke
to several people who knew Johnson and asked about his interest
in UFOs. According to his friends he seemed no more interested
in UFOs than in numerous other subjects. They could provide no
reason to believe he would intentionally damage his car to create
a UFO incident. He might "hide your coffee cup," one
gentleman told Klass, but "as far as we know, he's never
told any untruths."
Klass concluded his
discussion of the Officer Johnson UFO sighting by offering two
alternatives. He wrote:
"The hard physical
evidence leaves only two possible explanations for this case.
One is that Johnson's car was attacked by malicious UFOnauts,
who reached out and hit one headlight with a hammerlike device,
then hit the hood and windshield, then very gently bent the two
radio antennas, being careful not to break them, then reached
inside the patrol car to set back the hands of the watch on Johnson's
arm and the clock on the car's dashboard. These UFOnauts would
then have taken off Johnsons' glasses, aimed an intense ultraviolet
light into his eyes, and replaced his glasses, while being careful
not to shine ultraviolet on his face. Or the incident is a hoax.
There are simply no other possible explanations."
Klass' amusing version
of the "UFO/ET hypothesis" should not detract from
the importance of his statement that, "There are simply
no other possible explanations." In other words, if it was
not a hoax then there is no prosaic explanation for this sighting.
Perhaps Klass realized that the hoax hypothesis was unconvincing
at best and intentionally tried to make the UFO alternative seem
silly. (One envisions "little green men" or "grey
entities" molesting the police car and officer Johnson,
perhaps laughing gleefully as they hammered his car!)
The police department
did not accuse officer Johnson of damaging the police car. Yet,
Klass' book, published about 3 years after the incident, clearly
implies that this event had to be a hoax since it was clearly
not a misidentification or a delusion (recall that, according
to Klass, roughly 98% are misidentifications and the remainder
are hoaxes or delusions). Several years after the publication
of the book I challenged Klass to send a letter to the police
chief of Warren, Minnesota, along with a copy of his book chapter
so that the police chief would realize that he should charge
Johnson with damaging the car. So far as I know, Klass never
did send such a letter and officer Johnson has never been charged
with damaging the police car.
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© copyright B. Maccabee, 2000. All rights reserved.