Tony Stewart will not be charged by an Ontario County (N.Y.) Grand Jury in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.
The grand jury determined Wednesday that there was no evidence of a criminal act. The case was passed on to the grand jury by Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo last week.
Tantillo said "two dozen" people were interviewed in the case and revealed that toxicology reports determined that Ward had marijuana in his system.
"There is toxicology evidence in the case related to Kevin Ward, that actually indicated at the time of operation that he was under the influence of marijuana," Tantillo said. "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 about Ward's toxicology reports, Tantillo said that the amount in his system was "enough to impair judgment."
Tantillo also said that there was no evidence of "aberrational" driving from Stewart before he hit Ward and that it appeared Stewart was driving in a straight line until he hit Ward. Two videos of the accident were used as evidence in the investigation.
"Those videos were examined in detail. They were enhanced. They were run through programs that allow the frames to be isolated," Tantillo said. "They were run at 75, 50 and 25 percent speed. They were overlaid with grids and data and they were 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, at which his vehicle veered to the right, up the track as a result of the collision. Prior to that his course was pretty straight."
Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup Series champion and Ward, 20, were racing together at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in a sprint car race when Ward hit the wall. After his car came to a stop, Ward got out and walked down the track to confront Stewart. The right-rear tire of Stewart's car hit Ward, propelling him down the track. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. Ward was ruled to have died due to blunt force trauma.
The Ontario County Sheriff's Department investigated the August 9 incident for approximately a month before the evidence had been presented to Tantillo.
By New York state law, any case that possibly involves felony charges must go to a grand jury for a possible indictment. Tuesday, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the grand jury was hearing testimony in the case.
According to Tantillo, the grand jury was considering two charges: second degree murder and criminally negligent homicide.
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 Stewart.
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.”
A week after the incident, NASCAR said that drivers would be banned from exiting their cars following an accident barring dangerous circumstances (like a fire) until safety personnel arrive.
Stewart missed three races after the incident and returned to the Sprint Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend. There, he offered a brief and emotional statement but said he couldn't take questions about the incident because of the investigation.
The same weekend, NASCAR announced that it would give Stewart a waiver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite his three-race absence. To use the waiver, however, Stewart would have had to win at Atlanta or Richmond. He did neither and missed the Chase. With eight races left in the Sprint Cup Series season, Stewart has not won a race. If he finishes the season without a win, it'd be the first winless season of his career.
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