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The aftermath

By KEVIN KELLY and MIKE STEPHENSON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001


Some of the events after Dale Earnhardt crashed and died Feb. 18 on the last lap of the Daytona 500:

FEB. 19: NASCAR president Mike Helton; NASCAR chairman Bill France; Dr. Steve Bohannon, head of emergency medical services at Daytona International Speedway, and Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip conduct a news conference at Daytona. Safety is the primary issue. "There are technologies that are coming forward, different materials, different shapes and sizes of elements used, technology that gives us the ability to understand things better," Helton said. "It's an ongoing development."

FEB. 21: Bohannon examines the Earnhardt autopsy photos in Daytona Beach.

Earnhardt is buried in a private family service in Kannapolis, N.C.

FEB. 22: Circuit Court Judge Joseph G. Will issues a temporary injunction and seals the autopsy photos after Teresa Earnhardt, the driver's widow, sues Volusia County to keep the photos private.

A memorial service attended by NASCAR officials, drivers and family members is held at Calvary Church in Charlotte.

FEB. 23: The Orlando Sentinel files a public records request for the autopsy photos.

Helton, Winston Cup director Gary Nelson, Bohannon and car owner Richard Childress hold a news conference at North Carolina Speedway to announce a broken left lap belt may have contributed to Earnhardt's injuries.

FEB. 27: NASCAR officials confirm they sent Earnhardt's seat belt for analysis to figure out why it separated. Officials said NASCAR would announce the results possibly by week's end. "We'll definitely have something to say when we get the results," spokesman John Griffin told the Charlotte Observer.

MARCH 7: The lead investigator for the Daytona Beach Police Department says he is allowing NASCAR to take the lead on the investigation. "I'm not an expert on race cars," Detective Robert Walker said. "I would not know what to look for in the safety equipment. I know the drivers wear shoulder harnesses and seat belts, but I'm no expert on determining what's safe and what's not safe."

A bill that would exempt autopsy photos and videos from Florida's public records law is filed.

MARCH 11: Bohannon tells the Sentinel that outside experts should be allowed to examine Earnhardt's autopsy photos to answer questions about how he died.

Kevin Harvick, driving the No. 29 Chevrolet with the crew from Earnhardt's No. 3, wins the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

MARCH 16: Lawyers for Teresa Earnhardt and the Sentinel agree to let an independent expert review the autopsy photos before they are permanently sealed.

MARCH 27: The Sentinel reports that Walker, the lead investigator on the Earnhardt crash for the Daytona Beach police, said a supervisor ordered him on the night Earnhardt died not to attend the autopsy or inspect and photograph the wrecked car at the speedway.

MARCH 29: Gov. Jeb Bush signs into law the Family Protection Act that seals autopsy photos, which were open to public inspection.

APRIL 9: Dr. Barry Myers, a court-appointed expert, counters NASCAR's theory of the crash, saying Earnhardt died when his head whipped forward after his car struck the wall. NASCAR responds by announcing it has commissioned an accident-reconstruction review into the driver's death.

APRIL 29: The Sentinel reports that Tommy Propst, an Orange County firefighter and emergency medical technician who was one of the first on the scene after the accident, said Earnhardt's seat belt was intact.

MAY 3: Bill Simpson, whose company came under fire after NASCAR said the seat belt it made might have contributed to Earnhardt's death, arrives at NASCAR headquarters seeking a meeting with top officials. Simpson leaves after 15 minutes because NASCAR officials decline to meet with him.

MAY 8: The 5th District Court of Appeal stymies a DeLand Web site operator's quest for access to Earnhardt's autopsy photos.

JUNE 9: CNNSI.com reports that lawyers for a student newspaper at the University of Florida had tried unsuccessfully to serve NASCAR president Mike Helton with a subpoena for 10 days. The lawyers want to explore NASCAR's role in Teresa Earnhardt's bid to have autopsy photos of her husband sealed. Helton does not testify at hearings June 11-13.

JUNE 11: Judge Will rules that the Family Protection Act, passed by the Legislature one month after Earnhardt died is a "valid and constitutional exercise."

JUNE 12: Teresa Earnhardt testifies in a hearing to determine whether the Independent Florida Alligator and a DeLand Web site have cause to gain access to the autopsy photos, saying, "The photos are humiliating, disgusting and negative. They could be nothing but harmful and painful to my family, my company, our fans ... anybody." Will rules the next day that the photos don't meet exceptions to the Family Protection Act and should remain private.

JULY 7: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the Pepsi 400, the first Winston Cup race at Daytona since his father was killed.

JULY 31: Simpson resigns as head of the company that manufactured Earnhardt's seat belt.

AUG. 10: The Sentinel reports that NASCAR will conclude that Earnhardt died from a violent head whip not related to the failure of his seat belt and that cars might need to be redesigned to absorb the energy of collisions better. -- Compiled by Kevin Kelly and Mike Stephenson.

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