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Fight for autopsy photos is about selling papers

Re: Keep autopsy photos public, March 8.

I totally disagree with this editorial. Keeping the photos of Dale Earnhardt's autopsy sealed is not censorship. Making them public is the media once again trying to sensationalize the death of a racing icon.

Why does the Orlando Sentinel _ or anyone else, for that matter _ feel that having access to these photos will change anything? Why does the Sentinel feel that it has to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Dale Earnhardt? What makes the Sentinel think its investigation would offer any more proof of what happened?

Why didn't the Sentinel want to see the photos from any of the previous race-car drivers who were killed? Is it because they weren't as newsworthy as Dale Earnhardt?

I'm sure NASCAR officials are doing everything in their power to investigate this accident and will continue to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of the drivers. Right, wrong or indifferent, Dale Earnhardt chose to wear an open-face helmet, chose not to wear the special head restraint and, unfortunately, had a seat belt that broke. Maybe all or none of these resulted in his death, but allowing the Sentinel or any other news agency access to the photos will not change anything. Who's to say that the independent medical expert the Sentinel wants to use is any more knowledgeable or any more of an expert than the state medical examiner?

I think this has nothing to do with what caused the death of Dale Earnhardt. It is once again a newspaper wanting to "beat out the competition." This is taking the First Amendment too far. And now, you, the St. Petersburg Times, are trying to turn this into a Republican/Democrat thing by saying the Republicans are meddling in freedoms guaranteed by Florida's Constitution. You have made my point. This has nothing to do with censorship, freedom or acting irresponsibly. It has to do with selling newspapers.

Earnhardt's family is still grieving the loss of this great man. And now they are being put under more undue stress by the Sentinel's request to view the autopsy photos. I think this is an injustice to the Earnhardt family.

As an Earnhardt fan, I hope that the Florida Legislature will do whatever has to be done to seal these records and let the family and race-car fans grieve in peace. I know if it were a member of my family, I would be fighting just as hard as Theresa Earnhardt is fighting.

A. Rusconi, Spring Hill

Shock value is the attraction

Re: After grief, public stake in pictures seems clear, by Howard Troxler, March 9.

I was saddened to see the large, front page photo your newspaper published on Feb. 24 the cockpit of Dale Earnhardt's car following his tragic death. We were left to imagine the terrible force of the impact his head made on the mangled steering wheel. The color was an added touch of gore as the driver's blood could easily be seen.

Now we have Howard Troxler explaining to the masses why the Dale Earnhardt autopsy photos should be made public. And we should all believe these final depictions of this motor sports icon will never reach mass media. Sure.

What puzzles me is why media sources are battling for the pictures? The Orlando Sentinel stated it wants its neurology expert to review the photos. It's funny how there was no media outcry of this proportion when drivers like Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty all died last year from apparent closed-head injuries sustained in big league stock car racing. But then again, the newspapers probably didn't have staff neurologists last year _ or for that matter before the Earnhardt fatality.

Lost in the media frenzy is the issue of the broken safety belt Earnhardt was relying on. These were brand new belts. This is a far bigger issue to knowledgeable race fans. As someone who knows a bit about NASCAR racing, this is the story worth following. And as a medical professional, I believe the autopsy photos will be marginal in value as they are one dimensional and subject to personal interpretation. The mass media's problem is that the seat-belt issue simply doesn't carry the shock value that blood and gore do.

John Spasiano, Seminole

Don't add to tabloid fodder

Re: Keep autopsy photos public.

I've been a NASCAR fan for more than 30 years. There have been a lot of deaths in racing for as long as I can remember. With each death, there has been a NASCAR review. And each review has led to better safety devices for the driver and some better protection for the fans.

Now in the year when we (NASCAR and its fans) lose our best driver, a newspaper decides that it needs to review the autopsy photos. Why? Is it in our best interest to review only Dale Earnhardt's photos? Is he the only NASCAR driver to die from a basal skull fracture? I think not.

Can you tell me that one "expert" can determine if a driver could be spared the same injury just by looking at a photo? If so, I've been looking to the wrong God for a number of years.

And as to the cause celebre, again it's the Republican Party's fault. Take a gander at the number of people who called and e-mailed their representatives to oppose the release of the photos. Were they all Republicans? I doubt it. But I bet one thing: They were all NASCAR fans.

I've followed Earnhardt's career for all of his NASCAR years. He felt like a brother to me. I felt as though I lost a member of my family when he died. I don't need his death to become just some tabloid fodder to sell some papers.

Don Dickson, St. Petersburg

Autopsy photos should remain public

Re: The fight over photos, March 8.

This story says our governor and Legislature are considering rushing through a law making autopsy photos and videotapes no longer a part of the public record. It also states the governor's office has been inundated with requests to do this from fans of NASCAR racing and the late Dale Earnhardt.

I have written to Gov. Jeb Bush asking that he not take away another individual right based on the emotional outpouring of Earnhardt's fans in the wake of his death. I hope he can see that there are people in this state who do not want to see a law like this go through. The rights of the individual in this country are diminished constantly by well-meaning but self-serving special interest groups that can't think beyond their own immediate need.

I can understand (to a point) how individuals might get so immersed in their own situation that they ignore the greater impact of their actions. But the voters of this state have a right to expect better of our leaders.

The right to view these materials, though distasteful to the majority of individuals, is a right that should be protected. We need to know that they can be reviewed as needed by anyone in order to maintain the integrity of the investigative process. An individual should and must continue to have the right to obtain and review this information.

JoAnn Brawner, Seminole

We cannot tolerate treason

I am just an ordinary citizen like many of you. Over the past eight years, we have seen so many crimes committed around the country and in Washington, D.C., that we have become indifferent. Nothing can surprise us anymore.

However, there is one type of crime that was recently discovered that cannot under any circumstance be tolerated _ the crime of treason. There seems to be an increase in this country of spying and selling classified documents to foreign powers. This trend has culminated with the arrest of 25-year FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who has allegedly been selling top-secret material to Russia for the past 15 years.

I want to encourage people to take action to ensure that these criminals are punished. I urge you to write or call your senators or congressman to demand that these traitors receive the most severe punishment allowed by law. This may not be "politically" correct, but it is time that we take a stand against those who have not only committed the ultimate crime but also threaten the very existence of our nation.

Make no mistake, the precious freedom that we as Americans enjoy is not free. It comes with a steep price. Many brave men and women have sacrificed their lives paying that price. This is why it is imperative that we send a strong message that the crime of treason will not be tolerated.

I challenge you to take action now. If we sit back and let this slide, we won't need to worry about whether or not the voting machines will be working properly for future elections because eventually there won't be any.

Bob Clayton, Valrico

Please use your car ashtrays

Re: Woman tosses cigarette and it lands her in jail, March 8.

While I commend Gladys Louise Lewis and applaud her on cleaning up her life, she was defiling our roadways and natural environment. In a television interview, she claimed she has thrown thousands of cigarettes out of car windows. She also said she didn't know it was against the law to do so.

The last time I checked, littering is against the law, not just with a burning object. A cigarette may seem like a very small thing, but in roadside and coastal clean-up efforts, cigarettes are the main item collected. Discarded cigarettes not only make our roadways look unsightly, they are also a threat to the natural environment. Birds eat them, and the cigarettes stay inside their stomachs. This gives the birds a false sense of fullness, and they don't eat as much as they should. This results in developmental problems. The same goes for turtles, and any other creature that comes across the discarded cigarettes.

While I do not think Lewis should serve jail time, I think she should perform community service. A good project would be picking up cigarettes from the sides of roads. Littering is not to be taken lightly. It junks up this beautiful state.

Maine had the right idea when a cigarette deposit law similar to bottle deposits was proposed. People would pay a 5-cent deposit on each cigarette and then redeem the butts at redemption centers to get their money back. This would cut down the litter problem drastically.

To all of you people who throw your cigarettes out the window: Just because you don't see them anymore doesn't mean that they are gone. Please reconsider your actions, as they affect everyone. Every car is equipped with an ashtray. Use it.

Kimberly R. Brooks, Largo

Not the best use of jail

I was outraged by the March 8 story Woman tosses cigarette and it lands her in jail. I can understand why jails become overcrowded when such frivolous acts as tossing a cigarette out of a car window result in a sheriff-imposed sentence of 16 hours behind bars.

If jails and penitentiaries were limited to burglars and those who commit violent crimes, there would be no overcrowding. Many jails could be diverted to useful community services, and penitentiaries could be reduced in size, giving taxpayers a much-needed tax break.

L.L. Hermann, Palm Harbor

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