A New York Grand Jury has decided that there was not enough evidence to indict three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart on charges related to the death of Sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on August 9. The 20-year-old died after he exited his vehicle after a crash
CBS News reported Sept. 25 that Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo made the announcement, noting that no charges would be filed against Stewart. Tantillo also stated that toxicology results indicated that Kevin Ward Jr. was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death. According to the report, there was enough marijuana in Ward’s system to impair his judgment.
The Grand Jury heard testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, according to Tantillo, including racecar drivers, employees of and volunteers at the race track, two accident reconstructionists, medical personnel and police. According to the Washington Post, Stewart was also given the opportunity to testify, but the district attorney would not say whether he took the stand or not. The Grand Jury also reviewed photographs, videos and other evidence. Tantillo said that it took the jury of 23 less than a half hour to render their decision. (It takes 12 jury members to agree on an indictment for charges to be leveled.)
Ward was killed in an on-track accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York just after he crashed his car into the wall. NASCAR driver Tony Stewart had gotten into his vehicle, causing it to veer into the wall. Obviously incensed, Ward had exited his car and, according to videos of the incident, began walking down the track and gesturing excitedly. In what appears to be an apparent attempt to single out Stewart, Ward approached Stewart’s vehicle on his next drive-by. Ward then disappears in the video, flung dozens of feet away from Stewart’s car.
According to the medical examiner’s report, Ward died on impact of blunt force trauma. He reportedly died at the scene, even though paramedics attempted to revive him.
Stewart, who races in Sprint car races as a hobby, was at the event prior to a scheduled appearance at the Watkins Glen NASCAR race the following day. Although he at first said he would race the next day, he later stated that in light of Kevin Ward Jr.’s death, he would not participate. He subsequently missed two more NASCAR events.
Nick Bromberg, writing for “From The Marbles” at Yahoo Sports, noted that Stewart hasn’t won a NASCAR race since returning to the circuit. The 43-year-old driver is currently winless for the 2014 season and, if he should go without a win in the remaining races, would see the first ever winless season of his career.
Kevin Ward’s mother, Pam Ward, angry and critical of Stewart and his actions both on and off the track since the incident, issued a statement to CBS News following the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision. “Our son got out of his car during caution while the race was suspended, all other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating, except for Tony Stewart who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin but accelerating and sliding his car towards him causing this tragedy.” She said that the family would “pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin.”
Tony Stewart issued a statement of his own following the announcement. “This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever,” he said. “While much of this attention has been on me, it’s important to remember a young man lost his life.”