During Metallica’s European tour to promote their latest album, Master of Puppets, the band members often complained that their bunks for sleeping on their tour bus were uncomfortable and they would frequently trade for the best cubicle. Guitarist Kirk Hammett and Burton played cards to see who would get the best bunk and the most restful sleep; Burton won.
Everyone but the driver was asleep when, at 7 a.m., according to the driver, the band’s tour bus ran over a patch of black ice and skidded off of the road and flipped onto the grass in rural southern Sweden. Burton was projected through the window of the tour bus, which fell on top of him causing his death.
Lead singer James Hetfield claimed that he believed the bus flipped because the driver was drunk, adamant that he had smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath after the accident. Hetfield also remarked that he himself had walked a long distance down the road looking for black ice and had found none.
A photographer, Lennart Wennberg, who was at the scene of the accident had this to say when asked about the presence of black ice on the road: “The road had been dry and the temperature around twenty degrees Celsius.”
The police confirmed that they too found no ice on the road.
Detective Arne Pettersson reported that the pattern of the tracks at the accident site were common to ones seen at sites where the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel. However, the driver stated under oath that he had slept during the day and was fully rested; his testimony was confirmed by the driver of the second tour bus. The driver was determined not to be at fault for the accident and no charges were brought against him.
Cliff Burton was 24 years old.