Prosaic Explanations: The Failure Of UFO Skepticism

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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.