Driver of Diana's car had illegal blood alcohol level: Prosecutor
WILLIAM J. KOLE
Sep. 01, 1997
PARIS (AP) _ Princess Diana's driver was legally drunk at the time of the accident that killed her, her boyfriend and their chauffeur, the Paris prosecutor's office said today.
In another development, a source close to the investigation said today the car's speedometer was frozen at 196 kilometers _ 121 miles an hour _ after the crash early Sunday in the Seine River tunnel. The speed limit in the area is 30 mph.
It was not clear whether the reading on the speedometer was an exact indication of the speed the car was going at the time of the impact. But witnesses told French newspapers the car was going at a very high speed, and another police source said the car was traveling well over 60 miles an hour and perhaps twice that.
Prosecutors said today that the driver's ``blood analysis revealed that the alcohol level was illegal.'' They did not give the level, but a spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity later said it was 1.75 grams per liter of blood _ three times the legal limit in France.
Under French law, exceeding 0.5 grams _ the level after about two glasses of wine _ is considered a misdemeanor, while 0.8 grams is considered a criminal offense.
The 0.5-gram limit translates to a blood alcohol content of about 0.065 percent. Most states in the United States consider a driver legally drunk if the blood alcohol content reaches 0.1 percent, although some have recently toughened the laws to 0.08 percent.
France's law, toughened in 1995, is one of the strictest drunken driving statutes in Europe.
A spokeswoman for the Ritz Hotel told the Associated Press the driver was Henri Paul, 41, the hotel's No. 2 security man. Diana and her millionaire boyfriend Dodi Fayed had dined at the hotel Saturday night before they and Paul died in the crash early Sunday, as their Mercedes-Benz sedan was pursued by paparazzi photographers on motorcycles.
Police so far have not been able to talk to the bodyguard who survived the crash. Trevor Rees-Jones suffered a head contusion, a lung injury and facial injuries. His condition was described as grave but not life-threatening, and he remained in intensive care today.
Paul, a former French Air Force pilot, was not Fayed's regular driver, who had left earlier in another vehicle as a decoy to throw photographers off the trail.
Contrary to earlier media reports, the spokeswoman said Paul was an experienced driver who received special security training by Mercedes-Benz at a center in Germany.
Mercedes-Benz confirmed today that the sedan in which the couple were riding was an armored vehicle.
The prosecutor's statement also indicated at least some of the seven photographers detained would be placed under formal investigation _ a legal step that precedes any filing of charges.
They did not specify the grounds, but suggested it could be because they did not extend help to the victims of the crash.
``The investigation has allowed (us) to determine in a more precise manner the behavior of certain people who did not give the aid and assistance normally required in case of an accident on a public road,'' the statement said.
The seven were detained Sunday after witnesses said they saw photographers on motorcycles swarm the car just before it crashed.
Investigators were also looking at about 20 rolls of film confiscated from the six French and one Macedonian photographer. The photographers legally can be held for up to 48 hours without charges. Police did not release their names.
Prosecutors have considerable leeway in deciding what, if any, charges the photographers might face. Even if they are cleared of any direct role in causing the crash, France has a ``Good Samaritan'' law that makes it a crime to fail to help someone in danger.
The photographers were working mainly for the Sygma, Gamma and Sipa agencies, police sources said on condition of anonymity.
Investigators went to the Paris offices of a half-dozen press photo agencies Sunday and asked the directors to make available negatives and slides of pictures taken of the crash scene.
France 2 television reported today that a witness saw one photographer ``zigzag'' in front of the car before it crashed. That report could not be independently confirmed.
Other French media said today that several of the photographers were legitimate news photographers who covered the Gulf War, the Hong Kong turnover to China and other stories, and not paparazzi, the commercial photographers who trail celebrities and sell their pictures to the highest bidder.
A union representing French news photographers urged the public today not to jump to conclusions.
``Before throwing professionals to the lions, it is useful to remember that these are the same (photographers) who risk their lives to pursue images on battlefields around the world,'' it said.
Witnesses said the photographers, riding motorcycles, had surrounded the Mercedes sedan before it entered the 300-yard, brick-lined tunnel at the Pont de l'Alma bridge along the Seine, just north of the Eiffel Tower.
Within seconds the car slammed into a concrete post, spun and hit a tunnel wall, crumpling in a mass of twisted steel. Fayed, 42, and Paul were killed instantly; Diana, 36, died at a hospital a few hours later.
France Info radio said at least some of the photographers took pictures before help arrived _ and one of the photographers was beaten at the scene by horrified witnesses. Police impounded two motorcycles and a scooter.
Fresh graffiti appeared today, sprayed in bright red on a wall of the tunnel: ``Paparazzi Cowardly Murderers.''