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State Lawmakers Wrestle With Debate Over Autopsy Photos

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The question of autopsy photographs as public record is back before North Carolina lawmakers.

Autopsy photographs of Dale Earnhardt's body following his crash at Daytona International Speedway two years ago became a legal battle in Florida. Some media wanted the photographs to get independent studies on the injuries that killed Earnhardt.

Rep. Karen Ray, R-Iredell, whose district where the Earnhardts reside in Mooresville, wants to keep visual autopsy records private.

"It's the right thing to do. Families deserve the privacy after the death of an individual regardless of who they are," she said.

To NASCAR fan Steve Byers, the ordeal over Earnhardt's autopsy photos has rallied all racing fans behind the wishes of the Earnhardt family.

"Well, I think people who weren't fans are particularly enraged in this type of thing. It's a decency issue," he said.

Ray's bill would require a judge's court order for release of autopsy photos. It is a step attorneys for the media say they will fight.

"No broadcaster or newspaper wants access to autopsy photos for running them on television or the newspapers," said Mark Prak, a Raleigh lawyer representing broadcasters and the North Carolina Press Association. "We need them to be able to do what reporters do -- to perform their customary watchdog functions on government."

This is the second time the autopsy photo issue has hit the state Legislature. The measure failed two years ago. Legislation about autopsy photos is currently being discussed in Florida's Supreme Court.


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