On August 5, 2022, Heche was involved in a sequence of three motor vehicle collisions in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles, the final collision being the most serious, inflicting critical injuries on Heche and destroying a house.
The first collision took place when Heche’s vehicle struck an apartment garage and caused minor damage. A video released by TMZ shows her vehicle, a Mini Clubman, at the scene of the collision and an unidentified man repeatedly shouting, “Out of the car!” at the driver. The vehicle then reversed and left the scene of the collision. A photo of the driver also released by TMZ was identified as Heche.
TMZ also reported a second hit-and-run in which Heche’s Mini struck a Jaguar without stopping, though without injury to the other driver. An accompanying video shows the Mini speeding down an alleyway and nearly hitting a pedestrian. A doorbell video recorded in the moments before the final crash shows Heche’s vehicle driving along a neighborhood street at a very high speed, followed a few seconds later by the sound of a crash.
In the final crash, Heche’s vehicle struck a house, broke through a wall and embedded itself 30 feet (9.1 m) into the building, trapping Heche inside. The vehicle caught fire, which rapidly spread through the entire building. The resulting house fire took 65 minutes to fully extinguish and required 59 firefighters. Firefighters were unable to access and fully extricate Heche from the vehicle for forty-five minutes after their arrival on the scene, and initially were not aware that a person was trapped in the vehicle itself. Heche had sustained severe burns and smoke inhalation injuries by the time she was rescued. The house was left structurally compromised and uninhabitable. The tenant living in the house was in the rear of the structure at the time of the collision and only sustained minor injuries, but her attorney said that she and her pets “almost lost their lives” and that she had lost all of her personal property in the fire.
Law enforcement officials initially stated that Heche was “deemed to be under the influence and acting erratically” at the time of the crashes. The Los Angeles Police Department said that a preliminary blood analysis showed the presence of both cocaine and narcotics, including fentanyl, in her system; however, a more comprehensive analysis that took several months to complete was needed to determine whether the narcotics detected were given by the hospital or ingested earlier.
On December 6, 2022, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner announced the results of Heche’s final autopsy, stating that she was not impaired by illicit substances at the time of the incident and that no active drugs were found in her system. An inactive metabolite of cocaine was found through a blood test taken when Heche arrived at the hospital, which the coroner’s office said indicates the drug was used in the past, but not at the time of the crash. Cannabinoids were detected in Heche’s urine but not in the blood test, which was consistent with prior use, but not during the time of the incident. Fentanyl was also detected in Heche’s system, but it was determined that it was from treatment she received at the hospital.
Hospitalization and death
As Heche was being removed from the crash scene, she was filmed sitting up on the stretcher and struggling with firefighters while she was being wheeled into the firetruck. She lost consciousness soon afterward. Heche was first taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for initial emergency care, and then to Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital for specialized burn center care. On August 8, a representative for Heche said that she was in a coma in critical condition, requiring medical ventilation for pulmonary injury sustained in the accident. The representative also said that prior reports that Heche was in “stable condition” were “inaccurate”.
On August 11, the representative said that Heche was not expected to survive an anoxic brain injury she had sustained, but that she was being kept on life support to determine if her organs were viable for donation, in accordance with her expressed wish to be an organ donor. Heche was declared brain dead a few hours later, but remained on life support to assess organ donor viability and locate recipients. Heche was considered legally dead at that time under California law.
On August 14, it was announced that organ recipients had been found and that her body would undergo the organ donation procedure that day. To honor her organ donation, hospital staff held an honor walk for Heche. That evening, her publicist announced that she had been “peacefully taken off life support.” The office of the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner recorded the cause of death as “inhalation and thermal injuries“, with “sternal fracture due to blunt trauma” listed as an “other significant condition”, and ruled her death an accident.
Heche’s cremated remains were set to be interred in a mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which took place on May 14, 2023.