March 4, 2001
Teresa Earnhardt Speaks Out
From Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The following is the text
of her statement.
Thank you for joining us here today on such short notice. I want to acknowledge several people in the audience, including NASCAR president Mike Helton, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. drivers Steve Park and Michael Waltrip. Seated next to me, of course, is Dale Earnhardt Jr. On behalf of him, and my other children, Kerry, Kelley, and Taylor, I have something very important to say -- not just to the NASCAR family and its millions of supporters, but to every family in America.
It was just two weeks ago today that my husband died doing what he loved. We all miss him terribly and can never fully express how grateful we are to everyone who has shown us their support during this especially difficult and emotional time. The outpouring of affection for Dale and our family has been overwhelming. Since that day, we have received thousands of letters, phone calls and e-mails from all around the world offering sympathy and support. Thank you so much.
However, I am here to tell you that the trauma we have suffered has only grown since that tragic day two weeks ago. In fact, I have not even had time to caringly unpack Dale's suitcases from Daytona, let alone have time to grieve for him. The main reason is because we have been caught up in an unexpected whirlwind as a result of efforts to gain access to the autopsy photographs of Dale.
We can't believe, and are saddened that anyone would invade our privacy during this time of grief. I want to let you know that if access to the photos is allowed, others will demand them, too. And make no mistake, sooner or later the photos will end up unprotected and published ... and most certainly on the Internet.
We are thankful to the Florida court, which has denied access to these private photos for the time being. We hope it will order that these images remain where they belong -- in the medical examiner's confidential records. Ensuring that the media or others cannot violate Dale's dignity and our family's privacy will make the healing process possibly less painful.
But there's a larger issue here. As our family has learned, the laws differ from state-to-state concerning accessibility to autopsy photos. The deceased have a right to their dignity and loved ones have a right to be free from exploitation. Allowing access to these photos will only cause more distress and emotional harm. I'm sure every family in America can understand this.
Even people in the public eye have a right to privacy. This right is more important than the desire to exploit a tragic situation -- especially when no public good is being served. There is nothing to be gained by release of these images from Dale's autopsy.
Releasing the pictures will service only to violate the privacy of our family and integrity of Dale's legacy. Our family knows that what is happening to us is wrong and we don't want any other family in America to go through what we're going through.
This is the first time I've spoken in public since we've lost Dale. Honestly, I'm not very comfortable being here. It's too soon. But this issue is of vital importance -- not just to my family -- but to anyone ever faced with being exploited after losing a loved one.
I am grateful to be among friends, and hopeful that my difficult decision to come here today will make a difference.
I ask anyone, who feels as strongly as we do, to let your voice be heard. Over the next few days, please contact the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and the President of the Florida Senate, both of whom are in Tallahassee, and will hopefully be taking up this issue shortly. Ask them to protect the privacy of citizens by preventing the publication of autopsy photos. Then do the same in your own state. Please also contact Florida Governor Jeb Bush and then contact your own governor. Finally, we encourage you to let the Orlando Sentinel know how you feel about this unfortunate situation.
Hopefully, something positive will come from our efforts ... for Dale's sake. He was a wonderful husband, father, son and brother, as well as national role model for so many. That's the way he should be remembered. Please help us by speaking out. We need you right now. Thank you for your support.
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