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Grand Jury Won't Charge NASCAR's Tony Stewart In Fatal Race Track Incident In Canandaigua

(WXXI News & AP) An Ontario County grand jury has decided not to bring any charges against NASCAR driver Tony Stewart in connection with the August 9th incident at a Canandaigua race track that took the life of 20 year old Kevin Ward Jr. of Lewis County.

District Attorney Mike Tantillo released the following statement:

"This week an Ontario County grand jury has been meeting to hear testimony and review evidence gathered in the Tony Stewart matter, relating to the death of Kevin Ward at the Canandaigua Motor Speedway on August 9, 2014. The grand jury has completed its investigation.

During the course of the grand jury presentation, approximately two dozen witnesses testified. These included a number of race car drivers, racetrack employees and volunteers, two accident reconstruction experts, medical personnel, and a number of police officers. In addition, the grand jury reviewed a number of photographs and video recordings, as well as other documentary evidence. After listening to and questioning all of the witnesses, and reviewing all of the evidence, the grand jury has determined that there is no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes; his case was “No-Billed” by the grand jury."  

Ward had spun while racing alongside Stewart and then the 20-year-old climbed out of his car and walked down the track, waving his arms in an apparent attempt to confront the 43-year-old NASCAR veteran. 

Authorities said the first car to pass Ward had to swerve to miss hitting him. The front of Stewart's car appeared to clear Ward, but Ward was struck by the right rear tire and  later died of his injuries.
Tantillo also said Ward was under the influence of marijuana that night ``enough to impair judgment.'' Tantillo says Stewart was not tested, but an expert in recognizing drug and alcohol impairment who interviewed Stewart on the night of the race did not see any indication of that .

Tantillo says the charges the grand jury could have considered were manslaughter in the 2nd degree and criminally negligent homicide, but found no basis to charge Stewart with either one.

In a statement, Stewart said the incident would stay with him forever, and he thanked his supporters and the thorough investigation into the incident.  Stewart issued a statement which said that  "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.''  He called the death of Kevin Ward Jr. ``the toughest and most emotional experience of my life."

Kevin Ward's family issued this statement: "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 family said Wednesday. "The focus should be on the actions of Mr. Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin."

NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said there were "no winners" in the accident and expressed support for Ward's family and Stewart.

Current Chase leader and 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski tweeted after the marijuana disclosure: "Can't believe what I'm reading about Tony Stewart's case. Why didn't they release this sooner?!?!" 


Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.