Las Vegas (March 4) - Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., held her first press conference today. She is requesting support and help from the general public, Earnhardt's many fans and the racing community. The family wants...
Las Vegas (March 4) - Teresa Earnhardt, the widow of legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., held her first press conference today. She is requesting support and help from the general public, Earnhardt's many fans and the racing community. The family wants to keep the autopsy report and the photos private. Earnhardt died of a skull fracture (head injuries) caused by a last-lap accident at the Daytona 500 on February 18.
Under Florida's law, all photographs and autopsy reports are public record except in a case of active criminal investigation. On February 22, Mrs. Earnhardt sued Volusia County, Florida to stop the release of the medical examiner's autopsy photos. Currently, there is a temporary injunction issued by Judge Joseph Will. According to the Judge, the photos have no "bona fide newsworthiness and could cause the family additional anguish and grief." The Orlando Sentinel had made a request to have the photos released.
Mrs. Earnhardt read from a statement: "This is the first time I've spoken in public since we've lost Dale. Honestly, I'm not very comfortable being here. It's too soon. But this issue is of vital importance - not just to my family - but to anyone ever faced with being exploited after losing a loved one."
Mrs. Earnhardt sat alongside Dale's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., while quietly reading her statement. She made the plea at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway prior to the start of the Winston Cup race, "anyone who feels as strongly as we do, let your voices be heard."
A hearing on whether to make the injunction permanent was originally set for last Thursday but was postponed for one week because of a scheduling conflict. The public may contact the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, the president of the Florida Senate and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, asking them to "protect the privacy of citizens by preventing publication of autopsy photos," according to Mrs. Earnhardt.
The Orlando Sentinel's editors have stated to the courts and during press conferences that they have no intention of publishing the photos. In an article on Sunday, the Sentinel Editor, Tim Franklin said the newspaper wanted the photos so a head trauma expert could make an independent determination of the cause of death. The attorney for the Sentinel, David Bralow has said that the newspaper has no desire to cause Teresa Earnhardt more pain. Bralow went on to say; "However, if these photos will help elucidate the nature of what exactly went wrong or what happened to Dale Earnhardt, then the public is served."
Teresa Earnhardt said the request by the Sentinel for the autopsy photos added to the family's trauma. "In fact, I have not even had time to caringly unpack Dale's suitcase from Daytona, let alone have time to grieve for him," she said. "The main reason is because we have been caught up in an unexpected whirlwind as a result of efforts to gain access to the autopsy photographs of Dale.
"We can't believe and are saddened that anyone would invade our privacy during this time of grief. I want to let you know that if access to the photos is allowed, others will demand them, too. And make no mistake, sooner or later the photos will end up unprotected and published ... and most certainly on the Internet."
NASCAR has hired a consultant and is investigating the death of Dale Earnhardt. Since the accident and the initial reports, NASCAR found a broken left lap belt of the battered Chevrolet. It is unknown at this time if the lap belt was the cause of Earnhardt's death.