NOT GUILTY: Nascar driver Tony Stewart will not be charged for the death of a fellow driver following a horror crash on August 9 2014. Image: AP / John Bazemore
JENNA FRYER and CAROLYN THOMPSON
CANANDAIGUA, New York State - Three-times Nascar champion Tony Stewart will not be charged with the death of a fellow driver at a sprint car race earlier in 2014.
Part of the reason, prosecutors disclosed, was that the driver who was killed had been smoking marijuana on the night he ran on to the track and was killed.
A US grand jury that heard testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, among them accident reconstruction experts and drivers, and looked at photographs and video decided against bringing criminal charges against Stewart for the death of 20-year-old sprint-car driver Kevin Ward during an August 9 2014 race.
That doesn't mean it's all over for Stewart...
A few hours after Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced the grand jury's decision Ward's family said in a statement read by phone by is sister Kayla Herring that the family would seek civil damages.
NOT OVER YET
The statement claimed: "Our son got out of his car during caution when the race was suspended. All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car toward him, causing the tragedy.
"The focus should be on the actions of Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin."
The family might have a difficult task: Tantillo disclosed the influence of marijuana and used two different enhanced videos which showed Stewart had done nothing wrong.
"The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision.
"Prior to that, his course was pretty straight."
Stewart's reaction was not one of celebration, he added, and his statement had the same twinge of sadness that he's carried since he returned to Nascar three weeks earlier after three weeks of seclusion after Ward's death.
The 43-year-old Nascar superstar acknowledged the investigation was "long and emotionally difficult" but noted it allowed time for all the facts to be presented.
"This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life and will stay with me fo rever. I'm very grateful for all the support I've received and continue to receive," he said.
"While much of the attention has been on me, it's important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward's family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers."
CAUSE OF DEATH
Authorities said the first car to pass Ward had to swerve to avoid him. The front of Stewart's car appeared to clear Ward but Ward was struck by the right rear tyre and hurtled through the air.
Cause of death was given as "blunt force trauma".
The investigating sheriff asked in the days after Ward's death for spectators to turn in photos and videos of the crash. Among the things being looked at were the dim lighting, how muddy it was, and whether Ward's dark race suit played a role in his death.
The sheriff said later: "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, into the middle of other cars that were racing, played a big, big factor in their decision," he said.
"Judgment is probably the most important factor in this case."