The circumstances surrounding comedian Bob Saget’s death on Jan. 9 are murky, and have only gotten murkier as new information emerged over the past five weeks. Now it seems more details will not be forthcoming any time soon — a Florida judge just blocked the release of any more records related to the Full House actor’s death.
The motion came a day after Saget’s widow, Kelly Rizzo, and his three daughters from a previous marriage, filed a lawsuit against Orange County Sheriff John Mina and the medical examiner’s office to block them from releasing documents or evidence collected during inquiries into the death. In the complaint, the family argued that the records were exempt from Florida’s broad-reaching public records regulation, known as the Sunshine Law, and that releasing them would cause his relatives “irreparable harm in the form of extreme mental pain, anguish, and emotional distress.”
But there are several unanswered questions about how Saget died. A brief primer: in early January, Saget was on tour with a new standup and music set called “I Don’t Do Negative.” The tour kicked off in Orlando on Jan. 7, with a second show Jan 8 in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach. That night, he was staying in the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Great Lakes and scheduled to check out the next day. When he didn’t, Saget’s family contacted the hotel to perform a wellness check; Saget was found unresponsive and declared dead at the scene. (The Orange County Sheriff’s Office did not return Gawker’s request for comment).
Initially, reports said that Saget had died in his sleep without suffering and was “tucked into bed.” But on Feb. 9, Saget’s family announced that the cause of death seemed to be a head trauma. “Now that we have the final conclusions from the authorities’ investigation, we felt it only proper that the fans hear those conclusions directly from us,” the family said in a statement. “They have concluded that he accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it and went to sleep. No drugs or alcohol were involved.”
Two days later, this assessment was more or less confirmed by an autopsy report from the Orange and Osceola County Medical Examiner, which concluded he had died from a “blunt head trauma.” The AP summed up the medical jargon in the autopsy report as such: “Saget had an abrasion on his scalp, a fracture at the base of his skull, fractures around his eye sockets, bleeding between the brain and tissue covering the brain as well as bruises to the brain.”
There was evidence of COVID in his system, as well as traces of the panic attack medication Klonopin and an antidepressant, Trazodone, but none led the coroner to conclude they had played a role in his death. “It is most probable that the decedent suffered an unwitnessed fall backwards and struck the posterior aspect of his head,” Chief Medical Examiner Joshua Stephany wrote. “The manner of death is accident.” (Stephany declined to comment for this piece).
So here is one question: How did Saget hit his head? When news first broke, a police report noted that Saget’s room had been “orderly” with no signs of foul play. The comic had been found “supine” with his “left arm was across his chest while his right arm was resting on the bed. No signs of trauma were seen." But in a New York Times article about the autopsy, a Dr. Gavin Britz, neurosurgery chair at Houston Methodist, said that the head injuries described in the report constituted “significant trauma,” consistent with “someone with a baseball bat to the head or who has fallen from 20 or 30 feet.” Another doctor interviewed by the Times likened Saget’s skull injuries to “an egg cracking.”
Early on Wednesday, TMZ reported that investigators believed Saget had sustained his head injury inside the hotel room. Saget had driven some two hours back to the Ritz-Carlton that night — a feat that would be basically impossible with a head wound of this kind. Their source claimed authorities believed Saget had hit a “portion of the headboard that is not padded,” and made of wood. The working theory was that Saget hit his head while already under the covers and lost consciousness in a sleep-like position.
This poses some more questions. Is it possible to hit your head while under the covers, break your eye sockets, and fall unconscious so neatly that the first investigators don’t notice any obvious head trauma? Maybe. Is it possible that an impact of this kind could leave a wound similar to a 30-foot fall? Possibly. But one mystery with TMZ’s theory is the role of the headboard. The resort makes photo tours of its three types of suites available on its website. It’s unclear what kind of room Saget was staying in that night, but all three room types are equipped with the same kind of bed. And none of them has a proper headboard — instead, the wall behind the bed appears to be padded. As TMZ notes: “What's interesting ... Although authorities on the scene felt the headboard scenario was the most likely, the Medical Examiner never mentioned it.”
Is it possible Saget could have been accompanied by someone else? TMZ says no; their source claimed a “baseball bat”-type attack inside the room seemed unlikely — electronic key timestamps suggested Saget had entered the room late after midnight, and that no one else entered after that. “The next time the door was opened,” TMZ wrote, “was when hotel staff found him in the afternoon.” Their source does not, however, mention any security camera footage, which might show whether Saget had entered the room with another person. The only place that does mention footage is Saget’s family’s complaint, which notes:
In the process of these investigations, Defendants [meaning Sheriff Mina and the medical examiner’s office] created records which include photographs, video recordings, audio recordings, statutorily protected autopsy information, and all other statutorily protected information.
Those also happen to be the records the family just had sealed. They aren’t sealed forever, necessarily. After a hearing on Feb. 16, Circuit Court Judge Vincent S. Chiu granted a “temporary injunction,” barring both the Sheriff and medical examiner’s office from releasing those records under some conditions.
One of those conditions is that Saget’s family must pay a $1,000 bond within five days of the hearing. The bond is held in the event that the court later finds that the injunction was “improvidently issued.” That condition was met; Rizzo’s attorney has already filed the cash bond with the Orange County Clerk of Court. But the case isn’t closed. If the injunction is later found to have merit, the bond will be voided and the seal will stay in place. If it is not found to have merit, the injunction would be basically what it sounds like — temporary.