CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — staff report — Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America photo — Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will not face charges stemming from the Aug. 9 accident that resulted in the death of sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr.
Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo made the announcement Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24).
Tantillo said a grand jury, which met Tuesday and Wednesday, found no evidence of wrongdoing on Stewart’s behalf.
“During the course of the grand jury presentation, approximately two dozen witnesses testified,” Tantillo said. “These included a number of race-car drivers, race track employees and volunteers, two accident re-constructionists, medical personnel and a number of police officers. The grand jury reviewed a number of photographs and video recordings as well as other documentary evidence.
“After listening to and questioning all the witnesses and reviewing all the evidence, the grand jury has determined that there is no basis with which to charge Tony Stewart of any crimes … Their job was to determine whether or not, based upon all the evidence they heard, there was reasonable cause to believe whether Tony Stewart had committed a crime or not. Obviously, they did not reach that finding.”
Tantillo said the jury reviewed two videos of the crash, one of which had gone viral on the Internet and another, a video from the race track’s camera, that was privately held. The race track’s video — which was in higher definition — was enhanced, examined and isolated frame-by-frame at low speed.
“(The videos) were a pretty important piece of the evidence that was considered here,” Tantillo said. “The videos did not demonstrate any aberrrational driving by Tony Stewart until the points of impact with Kevin Ward.”
Tantillo said toxicology evidence collected after Ward’s death showed he had traces of marijuana in his system that were substantial enough to impair his judgment.
Tantillo acknowledged he had spoken with Ward’s father, Kevin Sr., and said Ward Jr.’s actions after the contact with Stewart played a role in the grand jury clearing Stewart of wrongdoing.
“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. 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.”
Stewart released a statement on Wednesday via Stewart-Haas Racing.
“This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever,” Stewart said. “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.”