Was The Bus Driver Guilty In Death Of Metallica’s Cliff Burton?

Cliff Burton was a successful bassist playing for the iconic heavy metal band Metallica between 1982 and 1986. In late 1982, he was discovered by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield at a show at Whisky A Go-Go. At that time, the pair was quite impressed by Burton’s use of the wah-wah pedal, so they asked him to join Metallica. Although he initially declined the offer, he agreed to join them by the end of the year.

Burton first joined Metallica on stage at the nightclub The Stone back in March 1983. Throughout his career in the band, Burton performed on Metallica’s first three studio albums, but sadly, the 24-years-old bassist died in a bus crash in Sweden while touring to support ‘Master Of Puppets’ in 1986. Although it was ruled an accident, James Hetfield thought otherwise. Let’s learn the details of the tragic incident.

James Hetfield Thought The Bus Driver Was To Blame For The Tragic Accident That Killed Cliff Burton

In 1986, in Sweden, Metallica was on the Damage, Inc. tour in support of their ‘Master Of Puppets’ album. While on the road, the band members were quite dissatisfied with the sleeping cubicles on their tour bus. So, Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton decided to draw cards to determine which bunks they would sleep in. Burton drew an ace of spades and chose to sleep in Hammet’s bunk.

On September 27 at around sunrise, while Burton was asleep, the bus driver lost control and skidded off the road. The bus overturned as a result and flipped onto the grass. Although Ulrich, Hammett, and Hetfield survived the crash with no fatal injuries, Burton was thrown through the bus window and pinned under the bus. Unfortunately, the young bassist died at the scene.

Following the tragic accident, the bus driver said that the cause of the crash was a patch of black ice on the road. However, James Hetfield later recalled the incident in a Rolling Stone interview and claimed that the bus flipped because the bus driver was drunk. According to Metal Hammer, Hetfield also stated that he walked in his underwear down the road to look for that black ice but found none.

In a 1993 Rolling Stone interview, James Hetfield recalled the incident as:

“I saw him dead. It was really, really terrible. We were up late that night – I was drinking vodka, he was smoking his preferred substance. We went to sleep, and then when the bus was getting jostled around, I knew we were not on the road anymore. When it hit the side, I went out of the escape hatch, went around, and saw people yelling. It was freezing cold, we were in our underwear.

I saw the bus lying right on him and saw his legs sticking out. I freaked. The bus driver, I recall, was trying to yank the blanket out from under him to use for other people. I just went, ‘Don’t fucking do that!’ and I already wanted to kill the guy. I don’t know if he was drunk or if he hit some ice. All I knew was, he was driving, and Cliff wasn’t alive anymore.”

As reported by Metal Hammer, James Hetfield also said:

“Coming out and finding your buddy under the bus is not something you want to go through. Our first reaction was anger – one of the things we were good at.

‘Why did this happen? Where’s the driver? Let me smell your breath.’ I walked for miles looking for this black ice in my underwear when it’s 20 below. There were screams from the crew who were still trapped in there, screaming in pain – broken collar bones, toes, all that.”

As it appears, James Hetfield insisted that the bus driver was to blame for the accident. However, it is not crystal clear whether he was right or not.

Was The Bus Driver Really To Blame For Cliff Burton’s Death?

After the investigations on the accident, the police confirmed that they found no ice on the road. The freelance photographer who attended the crash scene the next morning, Lennart Wennberg, also said that the road was dry and the temperature was above the freezing point. Therefore, it is unlikely that a block of black ice caused the accident.

Later on, Ljungyby detective Arne Pettersson told a local newspaper that the tracks at the crash site were exactly like the ones that happen when drivers fall asleep while driving. However, the bus driver testified that he had slept during the day and was well-rested. Following that, the second bus driver who was carrying the band’s equipment confirmed his testimony.

As a result, no charges were laid against the driver. Today, it still remains a mystery what caused the bus to flip over. Nevertheless, the authorities are pretty confident that a piece of black ice wasn’t the reason.

Below, you can check out an interview where Metallica members talked about the accident which resulted in Cliff Burton’s death.