NASCAR’s Tony Stewart will not be charged for hitting and killing fellow driver
Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has been cleared by a grand jury investigating a dirt-track incident in upstate New York in August that killed a young driver, a county prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Stewart, 43, one of the biggest names in auto racing, struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, during a non-NASCAR sprint-car race on Aug. 9 on a dimly lit part of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park track, about an hour’s drive west of Syracuse.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said authorities submitted possible charges of manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide against Stewart and the grand jury “determined that there is no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes.”
Tantillo said the grand jury saw accident reconstructions, reviewed photographs and two video recordings of the incident, heard from witnesses and was presented other evidence before voting on Wednesday not to indict Stewart.
Toxicology tests indicated that Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night of the incident, he said. Stewart was not tested, but was interviewed that night by a certified drug recognition expert, Tantillo said.
Authorities maintained early in the investigation there was no evidence of criminal behavior by Stewart, but refrained from clearing him while they tried to determine if he hit the throttle as he approached Ward.
Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the race and the collision sent Ward into an outside retaining wall while Stewart remained in the race. Ward jumped from his car in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart during the ensuing caution period.
When Stewart’s car came around on the next lap, Ward, while in the middle of the track, pointed at Stewart. As Stewart approached Ward, his car appeared to swerve, striking Ward and throwing him 50 feet (15 meters).
Ward was pronounced dead at a hospital near the track.
Stewart, who had often driven in non-NASCAR races because of his love for competition, went into seclusion for the next three weeks. He returned to NASCAR on Aug. 31.
NASCAR introduced rules following the fatal incident that forbid drivers from getting out of their cars during caution periods until permitted to by a track safety official.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Peter Cooney)