The pending grand jury charges against Tony Stewart in the case of the Death of dirt track racer Kevin Ward Jr. took a turn when the District Attorney announced that there would be no charges filed after the long deliberation. An exhaustive investigation of the incident which included frame-by-frame analysis of the video footage along with overlays of data to determine the facts. Charges of criminally negligent homicide as well as second degree manslaughter were being considered after the death of Ward due to complications resulting from being struck by Stewart’s car during a race in Canandaigua, New York. Ward had exited his car after being turned around as a result of contact with Stewart’s car. Despite the findings of the grand jury, several members of Ward’s family are still convinced that Stewart is culpable for the death of the 20-year-old driver.
Ward’s sister, Kayla herring, read a statement from the family stating that the matter was “not at rest.” The statement indicated that they still believed that Stewart was at fault for their family member losing his life. It accused him of deliberately accelerating in an attempt to intimidate Ward at a time when the race had been suspended and all of the other drivers were slowing down. Despite having the analysis from the experts called in to review the case, as well as the testimony of multiple drivers familiar with the operation of those vehicles on that surface explaining the acceleration as a function of the steering of the car, the assertion continues to be made that there was deliberate misconduct by Stewart. The family intends to pursue a civil suit based on that belief.
Legal experts who have weighed in on the situation are saying that it is likely to be a difficult task to prove liability in this case. In addition to the technical analysis exonerating Stewart from the charge that he took the turn deliberately to intimidate Ward, other information revealed after an autopsy will compounding the difficulty of making such a case. Michael Tantillo, the Ontario County District Attorney, released the fact that the autopsy had shown Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the incident with levels in his system which were sufficient to impair judgement. In light of the absence of concrete evidence from the review of the videos pointing to aberrations in Stewart’s driving, the toxicology information may make it nearly impossible to mount a viable civil case. Emotions are running high on both sides of the matter, however, and the family has made it clear that they are not satisfied with the decision of the grand jury.
Tony Stewart, in his statement after the decision was announced, was also emotional. He described how difficult the experience has been for him, and spoke of how it would forever be with him. While there has been significant negative public response, the NASCAR community has largely been a source of support for him. With few exceptions, those familiar with what it takes to operate of those dirt track vehicles, and with Stewart himself, have not turned away from him. As the chase comes to a head, he is not racing for the championship, but will be able to finish out the season without the spectre of indictment hanging over his head.
By Jim Malone
Photo courtesy of NASCARMedia.com