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Diana's Driver Had Alcohol-Drug Mix

By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 11, 1997; Page A17

PARIS, Sept. 10—Henri Paul's bloodstream contained a deadly mix of alcohol and drugs when the Mercedes he was driving slammed into a pillar in a highway tunnel here early on Aug. 31, killing Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and Paul, the Paris prosecutor's office said today.

One drug was the antidepressant Prozac. The other, tiapride, is most commonly prescribed for recovering alcoholics, French medical experts said. The combination of the two with alcohol would enhance a feeling of euphoria while reducing physical reaction time and impairing vision, these experts said.

The office of the Paris prosecutor, in its second formal communication since the fatal crash more than a week ago, said a third blood analysis on Paul, assistant security director for the Ritz Hotel here, had determined his blood-alcohol level to be 1.8 grams per liter, far more than the legal limit for driving in France. That was consistent with two earlier tests conducted by authorities; Paul's family had requested the additional analysis.

The prosecutor's office said Paul's system contained a "therapeutic" dose of fluoxetine, the active ingredient in Prozac, and traces of tiapride, a drug prescribed to relieve some of the psychological distress associated with giving up alcohol or to prevent some of the acute effects of alcohol withdrawal. Tiapride should never be taken in combination with alcohol, doctors said.

Someone under the influence of those two drugs and about nine alcoholic beverages -- a rough measure of what Paul must have drunk -- would be bursting with euphoria and a feeling of invulnerability, experts said. At the same time, his reflexes and reaction time would be markedly slowed. And his vision would be impaired, particularly at night and while driving at high speeds, because the eye's pupil accommodates changes in the field of vision more slowly.

"You could not do worse," said Rene Salinger, a Paris neuropsychiatrist. "There is no worse combination."

Last week, Mohamed Fayed, Dodi Fayed's father and the owner of the Ritz, released hotel security tapes that showed Paul entering the hotel after he was called back to work Saturday evening and walking down a hallway. In the brief moments he appears on tape, he is not visibly impaired.

However, Fayed's Paris lawyer, Bernard Dartevelle, said Paul "should never have gotten behind the wheel." In an interview with France 3 television aired this evening, Dartevelle appeared to abandon Mohamed Fayed's strategy of defending Paul. "He was without doubt the only one who knew his own condition," Dartevelle said. "If his condition had been known, perhaps . . . he could have been prevented from leaving."

The Ritz declined comment today on the results of the latest blood-alcohol test, saying it will have nothing to say until the investigation is complete.

Also today, a newspaper report said that Diana's last words, spoken to an emergency doctor as paparazzi surrounding the wrecked car snapped pictures and flashed strobe lights, were: "Leave me alone." The newspaper Le Parisien quoted the unidentified physician as saying Diana's body was halfway out of the car but her arms were resting on the back of the seat in front of her.

"She was very agitated, half knocked-out but conscious," the doctor told the newspaper. "All around her, there were photographers machine-gunning her" with camera shots. "They were just a few centimeters from her face." Diana groaned, struggled a bit and murmured, "Oh my God," Le Parisien said, and then, "Leave me alone, leave me alone."

The newspaper also said that Fayed, her companion, had been thrown about 20 yards from the car. Efforts to revive him on the scene were unsuccessful. Diana died in a Paris hospital 3 1/2 hours after the crash.

Ralph Hingson, chairman of the social and behavioral sciences department of Boston University's School of Public Health, said the range of alcohol consumption needed to reach the 1.8 grams per liter in Paul's blood would be eight to nine drinks on an empty stomach, more if he had eaten.

"A person with that level of blood alcohol is typically found in fatally injured drivers in auto-related crashes," Hingson said. "A person at that level has no business being behind the wheel."

The newspaper Liberation reported today that Paul spent much of the two hours between his return to work Saturday about 10 p.m. and his fatal trip drinking in one of the Ritz's bars with two Fayed bodyguards. "I saw him drink two Ricards [aperitifs]," an unidentified employee was quoted as saying. "Then they all got up together. Mr. Paul knocked against a waiter; then he left, staggering." The newspaper also quoted other anonymous Ritz employees, however, as saying Paul had quit drinking some time ago and behaved normally that evening.

The blood-alcohol tests have been criticized by experts hired by Mohamed Fayed as not being extensive enough. Today, the prosecutor's office took pains to explain in the statement that the third test had been carried out on both a blood sample and on eye tissue, which is considered more reliable. The statement was issued "to prevent all inexact commentary or interpretation," the prosecutor said.

Two magistrates are investigating the crash, for which nine photographers and one motorcycle driver face possible charges of "involuntary homicide" and failing to aid the victims.

The patient instructions for Prozac here say: "This drug can modify attention and reaction capabilities. This should be kept in mind when driving vehicles and using machinery." The instructions for Tiapridal, a brand-name drug containing tiapride, say simply: "Abstain from alcoholic beverages during the course of treatment."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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