The Ontario County (N.Y.) Grand Jury determined Wednesday, Sept. 24 that there was no evidence of a criminal act and therefore Tony Stewart will not be charged in the death of Kevin Ward Jr., after having received the case by the Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo late last week.
New York state law, states any case that possibly involves felony charges must go to a grand jury for a possible indictment.
Tantillo announced Wednesday afternoon that a grand jury voted not to indict Stewart after deliberating less than an hour. The grand jury had two charges submitted for their consideration against Stewart: manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide. Tantillo said neither received the necessary 12 votes from the grand jury to charge Stewart after hearing evidence and testimony ‘over the better part of two days.’
Tantillo said that ‘two dozen’ people were interviewed in the case and revealed that toxicology reports determined that Ward Jr. had marijuana present in his system. And two videos of the accident were presented as evidence during the investigation.
“Those videos were examined in detail. They were enhanced. They were run through programs that allow the frames to be isolated,” said Tantillo. “They were run at 75, 50 and 25 percent speed. They were overlaid with grids and data and they were a pretty important piece of the evidence here.”
“The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward Jr., at which his vehicle veered to the right, up the track as a result of the collision,” said Tantillo. “Prior to that his (Stewart’s) course was pretty straight.”
“The grand jury was never tasked with the responsibility of anything other than to determine whether there was enough evidence to file charges against Tony Stewart,” Tantillo said during the news conference. “They were not considering whether anybody else was at fault. However, I am sure from their deliberations and discussions that the fact that Kevin Ward was observed running basically down two-thirds of the track into a hot track in the middle of other cars that were still racing played a big, big factor in their decision.”
“There is toxicology evidence in the case related to Kevin Ward Jr., that actually indicated at the time of operation that he was under the influence of marijuana,” admitted Tantillo. “There was no toxicology work performed on Tony Stewart, however a certified drug recognition expert had interviewed him on the night of the collision and determined that he found no basis to observe any alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs.”
When asked further about Ward Jr.’s toxicology report, Tantillo indicated that the amount in his system was ‘enough to impair judgment.’
Shortly after Tantillo spoke, Stewart issued a statement:
“This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever. I’m very grateful for all the support I’ve received and continue to receive.”
“I respect everything the District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office did to thoroughly investigate this tragic accident. While the process was long and emotionally difficult, it allowed for all the facts of the accident to be identified and known.”
“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.”
NASCAR also issued a statement:
“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. This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we have respected the local authorities responsible for reviewing this case.”
As a result of the Aug. 9 incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, within a week NASCAR said that drivers would be banned from exiting their cars following an accident with the exception of dangerous circumstances (like a fire) until safety personnel arrive.
Stewart can breathe a little easier, but the lack of criminal charges in the case does not rule out the possibility of a civil suit, such as a wrongful death lawsuit against him.