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Monday, April 30
France: Earnhardt's belt was torn
ESPN.com news services
NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. rebutted the story by emergency medical technician Tommy Propst that Dale Earnhardt's lap belt was not separated when he and other rescuers arrived on the scene of the fatal crash.
At the same time, though, France introduced information Sunday that does not match NASCAR's stance since Feb. 23 that the torn lap belt was discovered the night of the crash.
France was commenting on a story in the Orlando Sentinel in which Propst, a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Orange County, Fla., said he found Earnhardt strapped in his No. 3 car after the wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Propst said Earnhardt's belt was tight enough that he had to pull repeatedly on the latch before popping it open.
NASCAR officials said during a Feb. 23 in a news conference at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham that it found Earnhardt's left lap belt "separated."
France on Sunday reiterated to The Charlotte Observer that the belt was torn. He said Propst remained outside of Earnhardt's car during the rescue and therefore might not have been able to see where the belt had come apart.
"We're not saying anybody is lying," France said. "He said what he said, but he was on the outside of the car."
On Sunday, France said Winston Cup director Gary Nelson discovered the separated belt Monday morning, the day after the Daytona 500, when representatives from the Volusia County medical examiner's office came to the track to take photos of the interior of Earnhardt's car.
"It was laying down there near the door on the inside," France said of the belt. "It would have been hard to see from the outside. Gary didn't see the belt until the next morning. The car was covered and guarded. We put a cover on it, impounded it and locked it up. It was under lock and key all night long. The medical examiner came over the next morning to take some photographs, and that's when Gary saw the piece of the belt in the floor."
France's comments Sunday disagree with the timetable given at the Rockingham news conference. That day, NASCAR president Mike Helton said the separated belt was discovered the night of the crash, not the next morning. Nelson also said Sunday that he first saw the torn belt that Monday morning.
In the Sentinel's story, Orange County fire and rescue Lt. Mark Ratta said he remembers seeing three men approach the car on the night of the crash. Ratta said the men pulled aside a tarp covering the car and at least one took flash photographs of the interior.
Helton and Nelson have said NASCAR officials had spoken with workers at the scene of Earnhardt's crash and determined to their satisfaction that none of them cut the belt during efforts to assist Earnhardt and extricate him from the Chevrolet. But Propst told the Sentinel that no one from NASCAR has talked to him.
France agreed that NASCAR officials had not spoken to Propst.
"Our information was that the only person who was in the car was the lady," France said. "(Propst) was on the outside of the car. We did not talk to this guy -- we checked with everybody that we could."
The woman France referred to was Patti Dobler, another emergency worker who climbed into the car through the right-side window and began tugging on Earnhardt's belt. When she couldn't get it loose, Propst reached in and began to help, Propst said.
"I was in the car with him," Dobler told the Sentinel. "I know the truth, and I'm not allowed to talk."
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||I was in the car with (Tommy Probst). I know the truth, and I'm not allowed to talk. ”
||— Rescue worker Patti Dobler