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A grand jury will decide if Tony Stewart will face charges in the August 9 death of Kevin Ward.
The Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney's office announced Tuesday it is sending the evidence from Ward's death to a grand jury, which will decide whether or not to file charges against Stewart.
Stewart and Ward were racing together at Canandaigua Motorsports Park (N.Y.) in a sprint car race on Aug. 9. After Ward hit the wall, he exited his car and went down the track to angrily confront Stewart. Stewart's car struck and killed Ward.
The Ontario County Sheriff's Department had investigated the matter for approximately a month. Last week it announced it had sent the evidence from the investigation to the district attorney. According to the Associated Press, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo "could have determined there was not enough evidence to support charges and dropped the case."
Here is the full statement from Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo:
Over the past several weeks I have reviewed with members of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department their investigation, as it progressed, in the Tony Stewart matter. Recently that office concluded its work and forwarded the complete case file to me. Upon my review of all of the information contained in the entire investigation, I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter. Accordingly, the evidence developed in the investigation will be presented to an Ontario County grand jury in the near future.
As grand jury proceedings in New York State are strictly confidential by law, I am unable to state when the matter will be scheduled, other than to state that I intend to present the matter in the near future. Similarly, because of the confidential nature of these proceedings, I cannot state who will be called as witnesses, or what any witness’s expected testimony will be. When the presentation has been completed and a determination has been made, I will advise the public and the media at that time of the results.
Ontario County District Attorney
Stewart, who missed three races following the incident, issued a statement a short time after the district attorney's announcement.
[Related: Grand jury options explained]
“I respect the time and effort spent by both the Ontario County District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office in investigating this tragic accident," said Stewart, who is expected to compete in this weekend's Sprint Cup race in New Hampshire. "I look forward to this process being completed, and I will continue to provide my full cooperation.”
According to a Donald G. Rehkopf, Jr., a criminal defense attorney in Rochester, N.Y., this is neither a good sign or a bad sign for Stewart.
"From a broader societal perspective, this allows the grand jury, on behalf of the people, to say 'we do' or 'we do not believe there was criminal intent,'" Rehkopf told Yahoo Sports.
Rehkopf said a grand jury decision is likely in the next few weeks, but probably not before that. It takes a simple majority of the 23-person panel to level an indictment.
NASCAR released its own statement that read, in part, "We will monitor this process and stay in close contact with Stewart-Haas Racing. It would be inappropriate for NASCAR to comment on this case so we will continue to respect the process and authorities involved."
When Stewart, a three time Sprint Cup champion and 48-time winner in NASCAR's elite series, returned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta, he gave an almost three-minute statement on the matter. He has not taken questions about the incident and will likely not do so until the grand jury process is completed.
A video of the incident was posted to YouTube in the hours following the accident and the OCSD previously said it had a second video. In its statement last week, the OCSD had said it had obtained enhanced video, though we don't know which video it pertains to.
While the sprint car race was not sanctioned by NASCAR, the sanctioning body announced less than a week after Ward's death that all drivers must stay in their vehicles after accidents until emergency personnel arrive.
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