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Earnhardt doctor: Let expert see photos

Although against any sensationalism, he says an expert's examination could improve safety.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


The first doctor to reach Dale Earnhardt after his fatal crash in the Daytona 500 endorsed on Tuesday allowing a qualified expert to examine autopsy photos to pinpoint the driver's cause of death.

"If good is going to come from it where it's helpful for safety of other drivers in the future, then I'm all for it," said Dr. Alfred L. Alson, a trauma doctor in Flagler County who attended to Earnhardt moments after the wreck.

"If it's just simply going to be for the purpose of sensationalism or people who want to make a name for themselves by opening their mouths about a subject that they may not know much about, then I don't take anything good from it."

Alson, who has worked races at Daytona International Speedway since 1988, is the second doctor employed by the track to publicly support further examination of the photos.

Dr. Steve Bohannon, director of emergency medical services at the track, told the Orlando Sentinel that permitting experts access to the photos might determine how the seven-time Winston Cup champion died.

Earnhardt was killed when his race car hit the Turn 4 wall on the last lap of the Feb. 18 race. Debate about the type of injuries and chain of events that led to his death continues.

Bohannon said in a news conference hours after the crash that Earnhardt likely died from a basal skull fracture, the injury that killed three NASCAR drivers last year.

Five days later, NASCAR president Mike Helton, Winston Cup director Gary Nelson and Bohannon announced Earnhardt's left lap belt had broken. Bohannon then said the skull fracture may have been suffered when the driver's chin hit the steering wheel after his unrestrained body lurched forward and to the right.

Alson said two paramedics already had disconnected the driver's seat belts, a standard procedure, by the time he reached the wrecked car. He was unable to see if the left lap belt had broken.

"Any information that's gained is helpful to everybody in general, maybe even to some degree for use out in the street in real cars," Alson said. "I'd like to think that if someone dies that at least something was gained from it, not just simply the loss of the individual. It's much better to derive something from it."

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