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Evolving Earnhardt theories

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001

INITIAL IMPRESSION: On the night Earnhardt died, Dr. Steve Bohannon, emergency medical services director for Daytona International Speedway, said Earnhardt likely died of a basal skull fracture, caused by a head whipping motion at impact. The Daytona Beach medical examiner reached a similar conclusion the next day.

THE BROKEN SEAT BELT: Five days after the crash, Bohannon said Earnhardt might have survived if not for a broken lap belt: "Certainly, his chest and head shouldn't have made contact with the steering column. A different set of injuries would have occurred, and we don't know what they would have been."

OUTSIDE EXPERT: Dr. Barry Myers, a court-appointed expert from Duke University who studied the autopsy photos, said in April seat belt failure was not a factor. Myers said the whipping motion of Earnhardt's head would have caused the basal skull fracture whether or not the seat belt failed.

COMBINATION OF EVENTS: After an extensive investigation, NASCAR's experts conclude that Earnhardt's fatal injury was a result of a combination of events that might have been influenced by the broken seat belt. They say he was thrown out of position by impact with Ken Schrader's car and hit his head on his steering wheel or his seat as his seat belt failed on impact with the wall.

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