Speed eyed as factor in crash that killed CBS News veteran Bob Simon

Authorities in New York investigating the car crash that killed longtime CBS journalist Bob Simon said speed may have played a role in the Wednesday night wreck.

A law-enforcement official told The Wall Street Journal that a preliminary investigation into the incident leans toward speed playing a factor. Fox News learned that Simon, 73, was not wearing a seatbelt while riding in the backseat of the Lincoln Town Car.

Police are reconstructing the crash to determine if there was any criminal action, an official told The Journal. There were no working cameras at the location and both drivers blew zero on a Breathalyzer, the paper said.

Simon, who served as a "60 Minutes" correspondent and stamped his passport in 67 countries in a career that began in the 1960s, died when the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in struck the driver's side of a Mercedes stopped at a red light, then slammed into metal barriers separating the two traffic lanes, according to the NYPD.

The wreck left the black Town Car a twisted tangle of steel, and Simon, who suffered head and chest injuries and was unresponsive, was taken along with the car's driver to Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, where Simon was pronounced dead. Police were planning to interview the driver of the car-for-hire Simon was in and determine whether speed may have played a role.

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    “He swerved into me,” the Mercedes driver told The New York Post of the driver of the car Simon was riding in. “He hit me and he looked like he lost control of the car.”

    “Bob Simon was a giant of broadcast journalism, and a dear friend to everyone in the CBS News family.”

    — David Rhodes, CBS News president

    Simon suffered injuries to his head and torso, police said. The Town Car's 44-year-old driver, who suffered injuries to his legs and arms, was in stable condition, the NYPD said. The Mercedes' driver was uninjured.

    The Town Car was so badly mangled, rescuers had to pry open the roof to extract Simon from the rear of the car. It is not clear whether a buckled seatbelt might have saved the life of Simon, who was riding in the backseat, but New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission encourages -- but does not require -- passengers of taxis and hired limos to wear them.

    While many viewers know Simon for his most recent work on CBS News' signature show, he spent much of his career covering war and tumult on distant shores. Simon, who won 27 Emmy Awards, reported on Vietnam, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, China's Tiananmen Square in 1989 and the Gulf War. It was in that conflict that Simon and four of members of his TV crew were captured and imprisoned for 40 days after crossing into Iraq from Kuwait. Simon, who spent much of the time in solitary confinement, wrote a book about the experience, called "Forty Days." In the second Iraq war, Simon conducted a memorable interview with Iraqi insurgency leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

    CBS anchor Scott Pelley announced the death of his colleague during a special report Wednesday evening.

    “We have some sad news from within our CBS News family,” Pelley said, appearing to fight back tears. “Our "60 Minutes" colleague Bob Simon was killed this evening.”

    As the night wore on, it was clear from the network's reaction that it had lost a beloved and highly respected colleague. CBS News President David Rhodes released a statement mourning the loss.

    “Bob Simon was a giant of broadcast journalism, and a dear friend to everyone in the CBS News family,” Rhodes said. “We are all shocked by this tragic, sudden loss.

    Anderson Cooper, a CNN anchor who does occasional stories for "60 Minutes," was near tears when talking about Simon's death. Cooper said when Simon presented a story, "you knew it was going to be something special."

    "I dreamed of being, and still hope to be, a quarter of the writer that Bob Simon is and has been," Cooper said. "Bob Simon was a legend, in my opinion. He was someone I was intimidated by."

    Simon joined CBS News in 1967 as a reporter and assignment editor. He started out covering campus unrest and inner-city riots, CBS said. He worked at CBS' Tel Aviv bureau from 1977 to 1981 and in Washington as its U.S. State Department correspondent.

    Simon's war reporting career began in Vietnam. He was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon when the U.S. withdrew from the war-torn country in 1975.

    Over his career, Simon collected four Peabody awards and 27 Emmy awards, including one for his report on the world's only all-black symphony in Central Africa in 2012 and another about an orchestra in Paraguay whose poor members constructed instruments from the trash.

    Simon was born May 29, 1941, in the Bronx. He graduated from Brandeis University in 1962 with a degree in history. Simon is survived by his wife, Francoise, daughter Tanya Simon, who is a producer for "60 Minutes," and a grandson, Jack.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.