Two days after NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was cleared by a New York grand jury NASCAR is preparing to race this weekend at Dover International Speedway. Friday morning prior to the first practices and qualifying several drivers met with the media. Among the topics were the first reactions to the decision by the grand jury not to proceed with charges. Stewart was involved in an on track incident on August 9th in which 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. was killed.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo, released the grand jury’s recommendation Thursday afternoon. The DA elected to present the findings to a grand jury on September 16th after evidence gathered by the Ontario County New York Sheriff’s office into the August 9th accident was handed over. Stewart could have been charged with second-degree manslaughter under New York law if prosecutors believed he “recklessly caused the death of another person” according to legal experts; negligent homicide was another possibility.
Friday Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he really hadn’t paid very close attention to what had been happening, but let the process play out.
“I feel sadness in my heart for the Ward family,” Earnhardt said. “But at the same time you get something in the pit of your stomach that is sort of this frightfulness or this fear for Tony and what he is having to deal with. Just having known him for all these years you can imagine that he is going through something super emotional and overwhelming by a huge measure. There is sort of a sickness or something in the pit of your stomach for what Tony is going through.”
“At at the same time you never really forget that somebody was killed,” NASCAR’s most popular driver said. “There is a family with a hole in their heart and they have got to figure out a way to live out the rest of their lives with this always on their mind. It will have a huge effect on both sides for so many years.”
During Thursday’s announcement, the DA revealed for the first time that Ward’s toxicology report showed he had marijuana in his system, in an amount large enough to impair judgment.
“The toxicology report is shocking to see,” six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said. “From a friend perspective and worrying about Tony and understanding what he’s gone through and how tough this has been on him, I’m sure there is some type of relief that it’s kind of done, in that respect. But at the same time, coming back to the Ward family, even in the remarks I read from Tony, I’m sure he feels okay about not having this go any further and there being legal actions. A civil suit is still out there and that can happen for any reason; to anybody in this room. But, the other side of it, still first and foremost on Tony’s mind is that it was an accident and his heart is still out for the Ward family.”