Rescue Worker Says Earnhardt's Belt Didn't Break

One of the first rescue workers on the scene after Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash says NASCAR is wrong about the race car drivers seat belt — he says the belt was not broken in the crash.

Orange County firefighter and emergency medical technician Tommy Propst told Good Morning America that he struggled to pull open the seat belt buckle before finally releasing it to get Earnhardt out of the wrecked racecar.

"The left belt itself had tension on it when I took it off," Propst says. "I was jerking on it. If it would have been separated, as hard as I was jerking on it, it would have come over to the right side of the car where I was reaching."

Challenges NASCAR Claim

NASCAR officials have said that Earnhardt's left lap belt broke when his car crashed into the wall in the final lap of the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. said Sunday that the separated belt was not found until the morning after the deadly crash. France also said that Gary Nelson, the Winston Cup Series director, was the one who made the discovery.

Propst, a 24-year veteran of the Orange County Fire Rescue, said no one from NASCAR has yet questioned him about what he found when he reached Earnhardt's car less than a minute after the 4:39 p.m. crash.

He said he didn't come forward right away because he was worried about what the information would do to the Earnhardt family and to his own co-workers.

Response to Controversy

Propst changed his mind, he said, because of the controversy surrounding Bill Simpson, the founder of the company that made Earnhardt's belt.

"I heard that he was receiving death threats and all kinds of stuff like that," said Propst.

ABCNEWS' Good Morning America tried to reach NASCAR for a comment this weekend but the association was unable to give one at that time.

NASCAR has refused to display the seatbelt and is conducting its own investigation by unidentified experts expected to continue throughout the summer. NASCAR officials have not said whether the details of the investigation will be made public.

Steve Bohannon, an emergency-room doctor who worked on Earnhardt after the crash, said he thought the faulty belt allowed Earnhardt to strike the steering wheel of his famous No. 3 Chevrolet.

However, a court-appointed medical examiner that studied Earnhardt's autopsy photos said restraint failure did not appear to have played a role in his death.

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