At present, Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges for hitting and killing Kevin Ward Jr. with his car during a dirt-track race in Canandaigua, N.Y., on Saturday night.
“There are no criminal charges pending at this time,” Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said at a news conference. “We have reviewed the investigation to this point with the Ontario County district attorney. At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge, or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual.”
Povero cautioned that the investigation was ongoing and stated that photos and video of the incident, which occurred at around 10:30 p.m. EDT, were still being studied, as will autopsy results. Stewart, who dropped out of the NASCAR race at nearby Watkins Glen on Sunday morning, is cooperating with investigators and is, Povero said, “free to go about his business.”
Among the things investigators are studying is the banked dirt surface, which was slick and muddy, and the role played by Ward’s dark firesuit on a poorly-lit portion of the track. “Certainly that is a dimly lit part of the track,” Povero said. “That is something that is looked at as well as clothing and other conditions that would certainly impact his ability in that area.”
The race was under a caution at the time of the incident and Povero said Stewart was going about 30 to 35 mph when he hit Ward. “There are no foregone conclusions made at this point,” Povero said. “We’re looking for any information, any relevant evidence, that will help us come to a final determination as to why this happened.” After the investigation is completed, the information will be given to the district attorney, which is standard procedure.
Earlier, Stewart, whom Povero described as “visibly shaken” on Saturday night, issued a statement: “There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Ward’s family also issued a statement: “We appreciate the prayers and support we are receiving from the community, but we need time to grieve and wrap our heads around all of this.”
Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the 25-lap race, with Ward’s car getting a flat tire from a collision with the wall. With the caution flag out, Ward stepped from the car onto the track, waving his arms and pointing at Stewart. One car missed him, but Stewart did not. A witness who is a sprint-car driver and friend of Ward’s described what happened to Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News:
“Tony pinched him into the front-stretch wall, a racing thing,” Graves said. “The right rear tire went down, he spun on the exit of (Turn) 2. They threw the caution and everything was toned down. Kevin got out of his car. … He was throwing his arms up all over the place at Tony for most of the corner.
“I know Tony could see him. I know how you can see out of these cars. When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle. When you hit a throttle on a sprint car, the car sets sideways. It set sideways, the right rear tire hit Kevin, Kevin was sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two and then it threw him about 50 yards.”
Ward was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 11:15 p.m.