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Monday, March 26
Report expected within weeks
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – An independent medical expert on Monday viewed images from Dale Earnhardt's autopsy as part of a compromise between the driver's widow and the Orlando Sentinel.

Dr. Barry Myers, a Duke University crash expert, spent two hours inside the Volusia County medical examiner's office studying 14 slides, 46 digital images on a computer and other reports related to the autopsy.

He said he would issue a report on the cause of death and type of head injuries Earnhardt suffered within weeks.

"This is an interesting debate between the public's right to know and the right to privacy," Myers said after viewing the images. "To participate in that debate is an honor."

Citing privacy concerns, the racing hero's widow, Teresa Earnhardt, got a judge to seal the images, which normally are public record, shortly after he was killed in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. The Orlando Sentinel then went to court so its own expert could see the photos for an investigation into NASCAR safety. Newspaper editors said they never intended to publish them.

Both sides allowed a court-appointed mediator to choose Myers, who has written extensively on crashes and had no ties to either party. The photos then will be sealed permanently.

Earnhardt died of blunt force head injuries, according to a final autopsy report released Monday by the medical examiner's office. The cause of death was ruled accidental.

"At this point, this becomes a closed case as far as the medical examiner is concerned," said Dave Byron, a Volusia County spokesman.

The racing star had two 3.2-inch-by-2.2-inch areas of bleeding on his lower scalp, according to the autopsy. He also had a fracture that stretched through the temporal bones, which are located at the base of the skull and are among the hardest bones in the human body, to the occipital bone, which is situated at the lower part of the cranium.

Bleeding also was found beneath the temporalis muscles, used for chewing and facial expressions. Earnhardt fractured all his ribs on his right side and one on his left side and fractured his left ankle, according to the autopsy.

Under current law, autopsy photos are public record. However, bills moving through the state Legislature would prevent the public and media from seeing photos unless they can persuade a judge they have good cause. The House passed its version last week and the Senate is to debate its version Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the president of a Web site and an independent student newspaper at the University of Florida, the Independent Florida Alligator, are pursuing their own court cases for access to the photos. A hearing for the Alligator and is set for April 5.

Michael Uribe, president of, has appealed the temporary sealing of the images to the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The Office of the Medical Examiner of Volusia County has asked a judge to release it from the agreement between the Sentinel and Teresa Earnhardt. The medical examiner's office says it can't legally enforce the agreement as custodian of the images because the photos are a public record by law.

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