Doc Supports Autopsy Pic Release

Dale Earnhardt (3) hits the wall while as his car is hit by Ken Schrader (36) during the Daytona 500. AP

A Daytona International Speedway doctor thinks experts should be allowed to examine autopsy photos of Dale Earnhardt to answer questions about his death.

Dr. Steve Bohannon's statement bolsters the position of the Orlando Sentinel, which has been criticized by Earnhardt's widow and race fans for seeking access to the photos.

The newspaper wants a head injury expert to examine the pictures and has said it has no intentions of publishing them.

Bohannon, the track's director of emergency medical services, said the three theories about how Earnhardt died in a crash during last month's Daytona 500 are equally plausible. Letting experts view the photos could help determine which is right, he said.

"I would certainly support that," Bohannon said.

Earnhardt, stock car racing's most popular driver, died of head injuries Feb. 18. He crashed into a wall on the race's final turn at 180 mph, but there is a debate on how those injuries were caused.

Some say Earnhardt died when his head snapped forward, causing a fracture at the base of his skull. Three other NASCAR drivers died that way in the last year and some say such deaths could be cut dramatically if drivers were required to wear a head and neck brace.

But five days after Earnhardt's death, NASCAR officials announced that his seat belt broke at impact. That could have allowed his chin or the top of his helmet to hit the steering wheel, causing his head injuries.

Under Florida law, autopsy photos are public records, but a judge has sealed Earnhardt's. A hearing is set for March 19 on the temporary injunction issued in favor of Mrs. Earnhardt.

A bill is pending before the Legislature that would ban the public disclosure of autopsy photos. A competing proposal, supported by some First Amendment groups, is expected to be introduced this week that would allow the public to examine autopsy photos but make it illegal to copy or publish them.


©2001 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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