The driver of Princess Diana’s armored Mercedes sedan was legally drunk and possibly traveling at 120 mph early Sunday when the car crashed in a tunnel along the Seine River as paparazzi chased on motorcycles, French authorities said Monday.
The driver, identified as Henri Paul, was assistant security chief at the Ritz Hotel, where Diana and her millionaire boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, had finished dining minutes before the accident. Paul’s blood alcohol content was 0.23, or three times the legal limit, according to a judicial source.
Police kept seven paparazzi in custody for the second day Monday as authorities investigated whether the photographers instigated the crash. The paparazzi - who snapped pictures seconds after the accident - could face charges of manslaughter and of breaking France’s “Good Samaritan” law, which requires bystanders to help anyone in danger.
At least three photographers fled the scene, after taking shots of the dead and dying victims lying in the wreckage, according to lawyers and police sources.
They are presumed to be the source of horrific pictures of the bodies and wrecked car which have been offered to publications in Europe and America.
The German tabloid, Bild Zeitung, splashed one of the color photos, showing rescuers trying to get to the mortally wounded Diana and her companions in the wrecked Mercedes, across its front page Monday.
Mourners with flowers and notes streamed to the tunnel entrance Monday to remember the Princess of Wales, who died several hours after she was pulled from the mangled car. Fayed and Paul were killed instantly. The fourth person in the S-600 sedan was bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who remained hospitalized Monday. His condition was considered critical, but not life-threatening.
Rees-Jones was the only person in the car wearing a seat belt, according to police.
The driver’s high blood-alcohol level added a new aspect to an investigation that had focused primarily on the paparazzi.
Paul’s reported alcohol level would translate to a blood-alcohol content of 0.23 percent, well beyond typical legal limits of 0.10 in the United States.France’s National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism said the reading was the equivalent of drinking nine shots of whiskey - a shot in a French bar equaling about 1.2 ounces.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported Monday that Paul was attempting to swerve around a slower car when the Mercedes skidded more than 90 feet, hit a concrete piling and careened into a wall. A police source said the destroyed Mercedes’ speedometer was frozen at 121 mph.
Paul’s apparent drunkenness also led to disturbing questions at the Ritz, which is owned by Fayed’s father, Egyptian billionaire Mohamed al-Fayed.
Dr. Frederic Mailliez said he was driving in the opposite lane when the Mercedes sped toward him and crashed. He said he saw smoke, ran to the wreckage and back to his car, where he phoned for help and retrieved a medical kit. Mailliez, who specializes in trauma injuries, returned to the Mercedes and helped bodyguard Rees-Jones.
Then he said he turned to “the woman in black,” whom he didn’t recognize. “I freed her breathing and opened her windpipe,” said Mailliez, adding that 10 to 15 paparazzi were in the tunnel. “She was moaning and gesticulating wildly, and those are signs of choking. I put an oxygen mask on her.” Emergency crews arrived and worked for more than an hour to free Diana from the wreck.
The paparazzi, Mailliez said, swarmed over the scene clicking pictures, the light bursts from their flashes ricocheting through the tunnel. He said the photographers did not assist the victims or hamper emergency crews. “It wasn’t their place to intervene,” Mailliez said of the paparazzi. “It’s better (for medical reasons) they didn’t.”
The seven paparazzi - six Frenchmen and a Macedonian - were kept sequestered Monday in the Palace of Justice. Soon after Sunday’s crash, police confiscated 20 rolls of film from the photographers and are examining images from it for clues.
Under French law, the photographers can be held for 48 hours without being charged with crimes. Authorities said it was likely that this morning some of the paparazzi would be placed under “formal investigation,” one step shy of being indicted.
The photographers may face two serious charges: manslaughter and breaking the Good Samaritan law, both of which carry a maximum of five years in prison. They could also be charged with breaking France’s strict privacy laws, which can carry a $50,000 fine.
Tuesday’s issues of London newspapers had unconfirmed reports that the Paul had taunted paparazzi shortly before driving off from the hotel.
The Mirror quoted Gilbert Collard, a French lawyer representing Christian Martinez, one of the seven arrested paparazzi, as saying there had been an altercation in which the driver told photographers something like: “‘Don’t bother following, you won’t catch us anyway. “’
Police have not yet been able to interview Rees-Jones, who survived the crash with head, lung and facial injuries. He remained in intensive care Monday in grave but not life-threatening condition.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LAST WORDS The Times of London citing unconfirmed reports, said the driver, Henri Paul, had taunted paparazzi with “Catch me if you can,” before speeding away from the hotel.