By Timothy Cama - 03/02/16 03:17 PM EST
Former natural gas executive Aubrey McClendon died Wednesday in a car crash, hours after he was indicted on a federal conspiracy charge.
McClendon, 56, who founded Chesapeake Energy Corp. and led it until 2012, died after his vehicle crashed at a high speed into an embankment in Oklahoma City, Capt. Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma City Police Department said at a news conference.
“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Balderrama said, according to KFOR. “He went left of center, went through a grassy area right before colliding into the embankment. There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”
McClendon was alone in the vehicle and no one else was injured.
Federal prosecutors filed the indictment late Tuesday, making him the first oil or gas executive charged under the Sherman Antitrust Act in its 110 years of enforcement.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said McClendon orchestrated a scheme with another company to keep the costs of leases for drilling rights to a minimum.
The companies agreed not to bid against each other in a certain area in Oklahoma, and then the winning company gave the other company a stake in the wells, DOJ charged.
“Executives who abuse their positions as leaders of major corporations to organize criminal activity must be held accountable for their actions,” Bill Baer, head of DOJ’s antitrust unit, said in a statement.
McClendon had forcefully denied the allegations.
“The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented,” he said in a statement.
“Anyone who knows me, my business record and the industry in which I have worked for 35 years, knows that I could not be guilty of violating any antitrust laws.”
Chesapeake was one of the early companies to use unconventional drilling practices like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and had been a major force in the massive increase in domestic gas production of recent years. He was also an investor in the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and played a key role in bringing the team away from Seattle.
McClendon left in 2012 after a shareholder revolt. American Energy Partners, which he founded and led in 2013 after leaving Chesapeake, said in a statement that McClendon’s “tremendous leadership, vision, and passion for the energy industry had an impact on the community, the country, and the world. We are tremendously proud of his legacy and will continue to work hard to live up to the unmatched standards he set for excellence and integrity.”
Chesapeake said it was “deeply saddened by the news” and its “thoughts and prayers are with the McClendon family during this difficult time.”
DOJ’s antitrust office said it was “saddened” to hear of his death, and offered condolences to his family.
Updated at 3:51 p.m.