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Were alcohol, speed to blame?

September 1, 1997
Web posted at: 10:24 p.m. EDT (0224 GMT)

Latest developments:

PARIS (CNN) -- Disclosures on Monday that speed and alcohol contributed to the crash that killed Princess Diana took some of the heat off seven free-lance photographers, or paparazzi, who have been blamed for following the car.

French police expanded their investigation after learning the driver was legally drunk.

Sunday's accident also killed driver Henri Paul and Diana's companion Dodi Fayed. A bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, remained in grave condition, and had not yet spoken to investigators.

Lawyers for the photographers were buoyed by the latest developments and denounced what they said has been a witchhunt, saying their clients have been turned into scapegoats.

"What is the responsibility of photographers in a crash in which the driver was drunk? ... This changes everything," attorney Gilbert Collard said.

But Bernard Dartevelle, a lawyer for Dodi Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, said the photographers were still responsible because they had hounded Fayed and Diana on their French vacation. That led to last-minute security changes after the couple dined at the Ritz Hotel that night, and the choice of Paul as a substitute driver.

Police on Monday extended the detention of the photographers, who were taken into custody at the scene, after reports that they may have been chasing the car. They also were accused of snapping photos of the victims after the crash and of blocking some rescue efforts.

Prosecutors were weighing possible charges ranging from manslaughter to failing to assist people in danger, a crime under French law.

Police were examining about 20 rolls of film they seized from the photographers, and on Sunday they searched the offices of news agencies where the photographers work -- Sygma, Sipa, Stills, Gamma and Angeli -- to look for photos taken before or after the crash.

The Le Monde newspaper reported Monday that Paul was trying to drive around a slower-moving vehicle in front of it when the Mercedes crashed, but there was no confirmation of this by police.

Dartevelle also said a witness had seen a motorcycle zigzag in front of the Mercedes before the crash.

The attorney said Paul, a security officer at the Ritz, owned by Al Fayed, was recalled from home to drive the car while Diana's regular driver drove in another direction in an attempt to lure the photographers away.

Driver was legally drunk

A spokesman at the Ritz described Paul as an experienced driver who had received special security training from Mercedes-Benz at a center in Germany. She said he had experience handling armored vehicles.

A judicial source, who asked not to be identified, said Paul had a blood-alcohol level of 1.75 grams per liter of blood -- well over France's legal limit of 0.5 grams and the equivalent of a blood-alcohol reading of .175 percent in the United States.

According to France's National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism, Paul's alcohol level was the equivalent of drinking nine shots of whiskey in rapid succession, or nearly 11 ounces.

Doctor said he aided Diana at the scene

Dr. Frederic Maillez, who happened to drive by shortly after the accident, said he found Diana in the wreckage moaning and gesturing in every direction. He said he adjusted her position so she could breathe. Rescuers said it was 40 minutes before they realized the woman in the car was the princess.

According to Le Monde, some photographers were taking pictures of the victims within 30 seconds after the crash. Citing at least a dozen unnamed witnesses, the newspaper said some of them pushed away rescuers and two policemen who arrived on the scene, saying they were ruining their pictures.

But Maillez said on French TV that he was not hampered in his efforts by photographers. He said they moved aside when he said he was a doctor.

Correspondent Walter Rodgers, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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