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Student Paper Wants Autopsy Photos

March 19, 2001

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A student-run newspaper has stepped into the dispute over the release of Dale Earnhardt’s autopsy photos, filing a court motion stating its desire to see the pictures.

The Gainesville-based Independent Florida Alligator, which is run by University of Florida students but isn’t an official university publication, filed a motion to intervene in a Daytona Beach court on Friday.

Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

A settlement between Earnhardt’s widow and the Orlando Sentinel and a bill proposed in the state Legislature limiting access and barring publication of the photos is not in the public’s best interest, said Alligator Editor Jason Brown.

``It is very unlikely that we print them, but we’d like to decide for ourselves rather than have the courts decide for us″ said Brown. ``We’d like the courts to stick by what the law is.″

Florida law currently doesn’t restrict access to autopsy reports or photos.

A lawyer for the student newspaper says providing access to the autopsy photos allows others to review the medical examiners’ findings, or possibly help find a safety device that could have saved Earnhardt’s life.

``It is not the prurient interest that is driving this,″ Miami-based attorney Tom Julin said.

Teresa Earnhardt’s lawyers reached an out-of-court agreement Friday with the lawyers for the Sentinel, which had sought to review the autopsy photos of the NASCAR legend but pledged not to publish them. The Sentinel will get to view the photos and ask a court-appointed expert three questions about Dale Earnhardt’s injuries before they are sealed.

Mrs. Earnhardt had sued to block the release of the photos, and a Volusia County judge granted the request. She says releasing the photos would violate the family’s privacy.

Also, a bill that would require a judge’s approval for the public to see autopsy photos has won approval from a state Senate committee and is moving toward a vote in both chambers of the Legislature.

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