Investigators Say Driver Was Drunk

PARIS -- The driver who crashed Princess Diana's car, killing her, her companion Dodi Al Fayed and himself, had a blood alcohol content far over the legal limit, the Paris state prosecutor said Monday.


A statement from the prosecutor's office said investigators were trying to determine whether the driver had been hindered by photographers chasing the car "or by any other circumstances."


"Regarding this, the analysis of his blood showed a concentration of alcohol of a criminal nature," it said. A judicial source said he was more than double the legal limit, a level of drunkenness that can cause double vision.


The car was traveling at high speed when the driver apparently lost control and slammed into a concrete post in a tunnel parallel to the River Seine shortly after midnight Sunday.


The Ritz Hotel, where the princess and Al Fayed had been dining before the accident, said the driver, Henri Paul, was not a professional driver but the deputy security chief of the hotel, which is owned by the Al Fayed family.


A judicial source said the driver's alcohol level was 1.70 grams of alcohol per liter of blood -- more than double the criminal threshold of 0.8 grams, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years in France. Police sources said it would take 10 glasses of wine for an average-sized man to reach 1.70 grams.


The prosecutor also said the investigation showed some people appeared not to have given the assistance legally due to victims of a road accident.


The first doctor to treat Diana at the scene, Frederic Maillez, said "she was unconscious ... moaning and gesturing in every direction."


The off-duty doctor, who happened to be driving by, said he lifted her head and helped her breathe with an oxygen mask. The princess, the former wife of the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, died more than three hours later in a Paris hospital.


Maillez said there were about 10 or 15 photographers "snapping away at the car nonstop, though one cannot say they hampered me or my work."


The daily Le Monde said eyewitnesses reported photographers shooed away the first people who came to help victims and told two policemen arriving at the scene "to let them do their job."


Seven photographers were in police custody for a second day Monday while prosecutors weighed if a case could be brought against them on possible charges ranging from manslaughter to failing to help people in danger.


The prosecutor said the testimony of the only survivor of the crash, Diana's bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, would be crucial. But Rees-Jones, who was sitting in the front passenger seat of the black Mercedes with his safety belt buckled, was still too ill to be questioned. Investigators refused to say whether Diana or Al Fayed were wearing safety belts.


Police seized motorcycles, cameras, and films, and carried out searches at the headquarters of several unidentified news agencies in search of photographs of the chase and the accident.


A French lawyer for Al Fayed's father, Mohamed, said a witness had seen a motorcycle zigzagging in front of Diana's car seconds before it crashed.


French media said the car may have been traveling at up to 160 kilometers per hour when it smashed into a concrete pillar in a tunnel after a curve that followed a long straightaway. The daily Le Monde said it had swerved to avoid a vehicle driving at the speed limit of 50 kilometers per hour.