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Thursday, April 12

Bohannon admits to speculation
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The physician who said a faulty seat belt might have been responsible for Dale Earnhardt's death at the Daytona 500 admits that he was quick in blaming the restraint system.

Dr. Steve Bohannon
Dr. Steve Bohannon withdrew his assumption after a court-appointed medical expert said restraint failure didn't play a role in Earnhardt's death.

"I was trying to answer the questions the media and the public had to the best of my ability and I think I speculated more than I should have," Dr. Steve Bohannon told The News-Journal of Daytona Beach on Wednesday. "Sometimes you should just say it's too early to speculate."

Bohannon, the director of emergency medical services at Daytona International Speedway, withdrew his assumption after a court-appointed medical expert said restraint failure didn't play a role in Earnhardt's death Feb. 18.

Dr. Barry Myers, a Duke University professor who made his report public earlier this week after looking at Earnhardt's autopsy photos late last month, is "more qualified to determine the cause of death," Bohannon said.

Myers' report was the culmination of an agreement between the Orlando Sentinel and Dale Earnhardt's widow, Teresa.

Five days after the crash, Bohannon raised the theory of a faulty seat belt system as a possible reason why the seven-time Winston Cup champion died. At the time, Bohannon, 43, was the only doctor to see the racer's autopsy photos.

The same day Bohannon announced his theory, Teresa Earnhardt successfully sued to have the autopsy photos sealed.

Autopsy photos used to be public records in Florida, but Gov. Jeb Bush signed a measure late last month making it a felony for a medical examiner to make the photos public. The Sentinel and the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida challenged the constitutionality of the new law in a lawsuit filed late last month.

The Sentinel protested the sealing of the Earnhardt photos in February, saying it wanted its own medical expert to view the photos for an investigative series the newspaper was writing on NASCAR safety.

The Sentinel and Teresa Earnhardt reached a settlement that allowed Myers to view the images, which would then be sealed permanently.

However, A University of Florida student newspaper, a Deland-based Web site and the Volusia County Medical Examiner's Office have challenged the legality of having the photos permanently sealed.

A hearing is scheduled later this month that will address the constitutionality of the new law on autopsy photos.

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