The Mercedes-Benz carrying Princess Diana early Sunday morning attempted to lose paparazzi on motorcycles by running a red light, speeding under chestnut trees along the Seine River and “zigzagging dangerously,” according to one photographer under criminal investigation.
The account by photographer Jacques Langevin was one of several versions to emerge Wednesday as the battle for blame in the death of Diana permeates this city. The police investigation is widening, pictures of the crash scene are being peddled, multimillion-dollar civil suits are being prepared and the paparazzi have been cast as jackals who spoiled a fairy tale.
Police - who are investigating six photographers and one motorcycle driver for manslaughter and other crimes - said Wednesday they are searching for three more paparazzi who took pictures as the princess lay bleeding in the twisted wreckage.
The lone crash survivor, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, has yet to be inteviewed by police because of severe injuries to his tongue and face. He is hospitalized in critical condition and may not be able to speak for weeks.
Accusations also have surfaced that Diana’s driver, Henri Paul, who was legally drunk when he crashed the S-280 sedan, had taunted paparazzi shortly before the accident.
The accounts by the photographers are the most detailed to surface so far, and they came as photo agencies sought to deflect mounting public revulsion toward paparazzi.
“We think we are being unfairly targeted,” said Chip Hires, a photographer with a French agency, who is not under investigation. “There’s a witch hunt. People (photographers) are keeping a low profile. As far as celebrities are concerned, it’s a good time to come to Paris.”
Stories being told by Langevin and other photographers place much of the blame on Paul. They say that hours before arriving at the Ritz to chauffeur Diana and her boyfriend, Emad Mohamed “Dodi” Fayed, Paul was drinking at home and in a bar. Langevin, a former Associated Press photographer, said in one of several press interviews Wednesday that after he was detained by police early Sunday he was informed that Paul “seemed to have lost control of the car.”
Shortly before midnight last Saturday, Langevin said, he and other photographers were camped in front of the Ritz, where Diana and Fayed, who also died in the crash, were dining. Langevin and several other photographers split up and waited at the hotel’s back entrance.
Diana and Fayed emerged on the narrow street, took two steps and slid into the Mercedes. Langevin said he clicked about nine pictures of Diana before the black car drove off and was quickly followed by paparazzi on motorcycles. Langevin said he walked to his car and did not join the chase.
“Everybody stopped at the red light on the Place de la Concorde,” he said. During questioning by police later, he said he learned more: “Then the Mercedes sped off before the light turned green, streaking toward the entrance to the express lane. I was told that even as it was crossing the Concorde the Mercedes was zigzagging dangerously.”
Langevin’s account is similar to that of another photographer who was interviewed by German television. “The car ran a red light full speed and weaved,” said the photographer, who did not give his name because he said he had escaped police. “We were about 200 meters behind the car, nobody was in front. When the Mercedes entered the tunnel, the pursuit was almost over for us, because we couldn’t catch up.
“When we heard the accident we first thought it was an assassination, because it sounded like the explosion of a bomb. It was a real massacre in the tunnel.”
Langevin said he arrived in the tunnel about 12 minutes after the crash and that police kept him 20 yards from the wrecked Mercedes. He said emergency crews pulled Fayed out of the car and laid him on the blacktop, trying to revive him with CPR. Langevin said he could only see Diana through the moving arms and hands of paramedics trying to save her.
After taking about eight pictures, Langevin said, he began walking away when police “rounded up” the photographers. After being released from police custody on Tuesday, Langevin said he and other photojournalists have been unfairly portayed as the more aggressive, celebrity conscious paparazzi. Police and witnesses said several paparazzi took pictures in the tunnel instead of assisting Diana before paramedics arrived.
“You can charge these people (paparazzi) who arrived right away and did nothing,” said Langevin. “They are killers.”
Reports of what occurred outside and inside the tunnel are strikingly different. Police and witnesses allege that the paparazzi on motorcycles swarmed the Mercedes. Photographers claim they could not keep up with the speeding car.
Several photographers have said they used their cell phones in the tunnel to call for help. Police allege photographers interfered with emergency workers. Photographer Romuald Rat of the Gamma agency told his lawyer, Jean-Marc Coblence, that he is certified in first aid and opened the Mercedes door only “to take Lady Diana’s pulse.”
A French police report states that Christian Martinez, who works for the Angeli agency, pushed police away while he snapped pictures. “Let me do my job,” the report quoted Martinez as saying. “In Sarajevo, the cops let us work. Just try getting shot at and you’ll see.”
Langevin, Rat, Martinez and two other photographers and one motorcycle driver are under formal investigation by Judge Herve Stephan. They face two possible charges: manslaughter for instigating the accident and violating France’s “Good Samaritan” law, which requires bystanders to help someone in danger. Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.
The investigation could take weeks or months before Stephan decides if the cases should go to trial or be dismissed.
“Photographers are being singled out,” said Hires. “The car crash was made up of a whole set of dynamics.”
Some of the focus on the photographers was shifted on Monday when police disclosed that Paul’s blood alcohol content was 1.75 grams per liter, or three times the legal limit for driving. A former Air Force pilot, Paul was not scheduled to work Saturday night and reportedly was drinking at home and then at Le Bourgogne, a bar next to his plain white four-story apartment building.
He arrived at the Ritz before midnight and told paparazzi: “You won’t catch me,” according to some newspaper accounts.
The management of the Ritz - owned by Fayed’s father, the Egyptian tycoon, Mohamed al-Fayed - defended its employment of Paul. It denied reports on French radio that Paul, who was the hotel’s assistant security director, did not have a chauffeur’s license.
When asked Wednesday how a man with the equivalent of 10 glasses of wine in his system could have been allowed behind the wheel of a car, Fayed’s cousin, Hassan Yassin, stood in front of the Ritz and said: “If we all knew what we know now this would all be different.”