National editors group supports newspaper in photos battle

Friday, March 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A national editors group announced its support for a central Florida newspaper fighting for access to Dale Earnhardt's autopsy photos and blasted state officials for trying to stop the pictures' release.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors, a group of more than 500 of the top newspaper editors nationwide, said Thursday that it backs the Orlando Sentinel's push to get the photos so a head trauma expert can make an independent determination of the cause of the auto racer's death.

The ASNE joined the Society of Professional Journalists and several other news organizations in supporting the Sentinel.

ASNE also criticized Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers for proposing a bill that would stop autopsy photos from being considered public record, saying the legislation could set ``the dangerous precedent of closing autopsy records and doing so retroactively.''

``ASNE believes the Sentinel ... has a clear right to the material,'' ASNE President Richard Oppel said. ``It would be exceedingly unfortunate if this reasonable request were to be used by politicians to decimate the important principle of open government and open public records.''

Dale Earnhardt died in a crash Feb. 18 at the Daytona 500. Teresa Earnhardt sued Volusia County four days later to stop release of the medical examiner's photos. The next day, a Sentinel reporter made a public-records request for the pictures.

The state Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold its first hearing on the bill Tuesday.