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Driver's widow: Pass bill quickly

Teresa Earnhardt says she wants to spare families pain over the release of autopsy photos.

Dale Earnhardt's widow urged Florida lawmakers to quickly pass a bill that would require a judge's approval for the public to see autopsy photos.

In a statement released Sunday, Teresa Earnhardt said the legislation would save families from the pain she experienced while struggling to keep her husband's autopsy photos private.

The bill won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, its first step to becoming a law.

Mrs. Earnhardt's lawyers reached an out-of-court agreement on Friday with the lawyers for the Orlando Sentinel, which had sought to have an independent expert review the photos.

"Other than the death of my husband, this has been the most horrifying and absolutely unnecessary experience of my life," Mrs. Earnhardt said in the statement.

Earnhardt was killed in a crash Feb. 18 at the Daytona 500.

"We have been so caught up with these attacks in the courts that we have not had a moment to grieve for Dale or find comfort in our own family," she said.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, whose district includes Daytona International Speedway, would require a person to show good cause to a judge before being allowed to see autopsy photos.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate Government Oversight and Productivity Committee before it can come to the full Senate for a vote. A House companion bill hasn't had a hearing yet.

Mrs. Earnhardt said she was satisfied with the agreement reached with the Sentinel, which allows an independent expert to look at the photos before they are permanently sealed.

Court-appointed mediator John Upchurch will choose the expert by Friday, said Sentinel editor Tim Franklin. Representatives of the Sentinel will be allowed to ask the expert three specific questions concerning Earnhardt's head injuries and cause of death. The photos then will be sealed.

The Sentinel has said it never intended to publish the photos. The newspaper said it wanted the independent review in the interest of promoting driver safety.

Mrs. Earnhardt said she appreciated the support she has received in her legal fight. Outraged NASCAR fans and others deluged public officials and the newspaper with objections to the viewing of the photos.

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