Image: Memorial service for Joerg Haider in Klagenfurt
Barbara Gindl  /  EPA file
Controversial politician Joerg Haider was honored with a memorial service in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Sunday after he died in a car crash.
updated 10/15/2008 10:31:29 AM ET 2008-10-15T14:31:29

Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider was drunk at the time of his fatal car crash, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Stefan Petzner said Haider's blood alcohol level was significantly above the legal limit when he crashed his car early Saturday in the southern province of Carinthia, where he was governor. Police said his high-powered Volkswagen Phaeton was speeding at twice the posted limit when it veered off the road, crashed and flipped.

Petzner said he felt obliged to confirm widespread speculation that the former Freedom Party leader was intoxicated.

"It's true that Governor Joerg Haider was drunk at the time of the accident," Petzner said. "I can, and must, confirm that."

In Austria, people caught behind the wheel with similar levels of blood alcohol usually face hefty fines and a suspension of their license for at least four months.

Haider had attended an event in the town of Velden late Friday before heading home for the weekend to celebrate his mother's 90th birthday.

Police reconstructing the accident said Sunday that the speedometer in the wreckage of Haider's car was stuck at 88 mph.

The speed limit at the crash site is just 43 mph, and it drops to 31 mph just 100 yards further down the road in the direction Haider was heading.

Image: The wreckage of Joerg Haider's car
Gert Eggenberger  /  AP file
Joerg Haider fatally crashed his Volkswagen Phaeton early Saturday in Austria's southern province of Carinthia, where he was governor.

Haider, 58, was a polarizing figure. In the 1990s, he was denounced as sympathetic to the Nazis or anti-Semitic and his party's inclusion in government in 2000 led to the international isolation of the Alpine republic for months.

Haider had since significantly toned down his rhetoric and in 2005 broke away from the Freedom Party to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria, meant to reflect a turn toward relative moderation.

Over the summer, he staged a comeback in national politics and helped the alliance significantly improve its standing in Sept. 28 national elections.

Haider's funeral is set for Saturday in the southern city of Klagenfurt.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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