Grand Jury: Tony Stewart won’t face charges in Kevin Ward Jr.’s death
(CNN) — NASCAR driver Tony Stewart won’t face charges in connection with the on-track death of sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr., a New York district attorney announced Wednesday.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR top series champion, was driving a dirt-track car when the right rear tire hit Ward, who was walking on the track as cars slowly circled during a break in an Empire Super Sprints series race August 9 in Canandaigua, New York.
Ward, 20, died of massive blunt trauma before paramedics could get him to a hospital.
The Ontario County District Attorney said a grand jury found no reason to charge Stewart.
“After listening to and questioning all the witnesses and reviewing all of the evidence, the grand jury has decided that there is no evidence to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes,” District Attorney Michael Tantillo told reporters.
He said he thought the fact that Ward came down the track into an area where cars were still moving played a big factor in the grand jury’s decision.
The 23 members of the Ontario County grand jury heard testimony for almost two days from more than two dozen witnesses and reviewed photos and two videos before making their decision, Tantillo added. They took about an hour to deliberate, he said.
“While the process was long and emotionally difficult, it allowed for all the facts of the accident to be identified and known,” Stewart said through a press release. “While much of the attention has been on me, it’s important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward Jr.’s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers.”
Ward, who exited his car after he and Stewart were involved in a racing incident that left Ward’s car wrecked near the top wall of the track, was under the influence of marijuana that night, the district attorney said.
“The levels that were determined were enough to impair his judgment,” Tantillo said, citing toxicology evidence.
Ward’s family indicated it might pursue a civil case and said Stewart was to blame for the accident.
“Our son got out of his car during a caution, while the race was suspended,” the family said in a written statement.
“All other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Tony Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car towards him causing this tragedy. The focus should be on actions of Mr. Stewart and not Kevin. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin.”
After Ward exited his car, he stormed down the track, apparently to confront Stewart.
One car avoided hitting Ward but as Stewart passed close by his tire struck Ward, slinging him down the track.
The videos showed Stewart drove a “pretty straight” course until he hit Ward, Tantillo said.
“The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision,” the district attorney said.
Stewart could have faced charges of second-degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
He was interviewed the night of the race by a certified drug recognition expert who determined Stewart wasn’t under the influence.
“There are no winners in tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Kevin Ward Jr. family and Tony Stewart as they all cope with this tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park,” NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said in a written statement. “This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we have respected the local authorities responsible for reviewing this case.”