Afternoon Open Thread: Did Mitt Romney Lie About His 1968 Car Crash?

Mitt Romney recovering after emerging a head-on car crash

Joseph Cannon has a fascinating piece up on the car crash that Mitt Romney was involved in when he was a Mormon missionary in France in the 1960s. (Thanks to RalphB for sending me over to Cannonfire this morning.) Here’s Cannon’s brief summary of the events in question:

In 1968, Romney was a Mormon missionary in France, zooming his Citroen through the small town of Bernos-Beaulac, when he slammed headlong into a car driven by a Bishop named Jean Vilnet.

Romney was in a coma for days afterwards, or so he says. (The point has been disputed.) One of his passengers died — and therein lies a scandal.

For many years, Mitt claimed that the accident killed a drunken priest named Albert Marie, who had caused the collision by swerving at high speed into Romney’s lane. That story was not true. The “priest” did not die, was not drunk, was not traveling at high speed, and was not at fault.

For what it’s worth, the “priest” was then, and is now, a bishop; his name is not Albert Marie. Although Mitt Romney spoke French well, he apparently didn’t understand how nomenclature works in France: The final part of a male first name may be a traditionally female name, attached with a hyphen — and in religious families, that name is usually Marie. As it happens, the full name of the man Romney hit is Jean-Félix-Albert-Marie Vilnet.

A woman died in the crash, Leola Anderson. She was the wife of Duane Anderson, Romney’s superior in the Paris mission. Romney had been tasked with driving his boss and the other passengers to another mission where Duane Anderson was needed to solve a crisis.

Please read the whole post at Cannonfire if you can. Cannon provides a number of links, which I followed. This one provides the most evidence for Romney lying about the accident. The author argues, based on photographic evidence, that the accident could not have occurred as Romney described it.

Bishop Vilnet recovering from injuries sustained in the collision with Mitt Romney’s car

Details from Mr. Romney and his supporters are not consistent with photographic evidence and follow up interviews. A view of the impact site tells us the rest of the story:

— The cover story has the driver of the other car presented as a “drunk priest” identified by the various missionary sources with the name “Albert Marie, age 46” in 1968 and in 2007 said to be dead.

Contrary to the cover up tale he is Bishop Jean Vilnet. Full name: Bishop Jean-Félix-Albert-Marie Vilnet. Born in 1922. By American count that did make him 46.

[The photo above] was taken as he recovered from his injuries in the hospital at Bazas, up the road from Beaulac. He was driving the Mercedes Benz 180 in this accident. He is not dead, not yet anyway. He was not blamed by anyone in a responsible position for the accident. That blame was invented (as “woven from whole cloth” in legal parlance) by the missionary team.

— The cover story asserts further that this “drunk priest” was speeding at “120 kph” and swerved out of lane to hit the blameless Mr. Romney. This is the story that was told to the children of Mrs. Anderson all the way back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Photo of Vilnet’s and Romney’s cars after the crash

At this link, there is a photo of a Citroen DS just like the one Romney was driving. This one was actually in a high-speed, head-on collision.

Citroen DS after high-speed, head-on collision

The author of the post writes:

Romney was driving at normal highway speed. He has said repeatedly that he did not hit his brakes. If the Mercedes 180 had been going normal highway speed (much less the alleged “120 kph” claim), then Romney’s Citroën DS would have been annihilated — all six of the people in the Citroën would have been killed.

Given that we are analyzing a collision, the fact that Bishop Vilnet had slowed down entering the southbound Left Turn lane — from N524 into Rue de la Poste — that slowing down is what saved their lives. The accident described in Romney’s false-witness tale and now echoed in Wikipedia is physically impossible.

This article from Le Monde repeats the Romney version of the accident, but contains quotes from a couple who were in the car with Romney during the accident as saying they have been asked not to comment about the events that took place back in 1968.

More than 40 years later, André and Paulette Salarnier, French Mormons who often cooked “coq au vin” and mushroom-stuffed crepes for the young Romney, say they received several emails from the candidate’s entourage asking them to no longer speak to reporters about the 1968 accident.

They just remember “an open and charming young man speaking French almost without an accent.” André Salarnier also makes sure to prevent any backlash regarding his famous “coq au vin,” a dish that could be forbidden to water-drinking Mormons and shatter Romney’s image as a pious Mormon: “The wine being cooked, it no longer contains alcohol.” A way to stop anyone from thinking that “Young Mitt” may have been corrupted by the French and their famous Bordeaux vintages.

Many thanks to Joseph Cannon for digging up another great story about Mitt Romney. I’m not sure if there is any way to actually prove that Mitt lied about the accident, but it would certainly be in character with what we know about his incessant lying during the presidential campaign. So what do you think?

Again, this is an open thread.