Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced today that a Grand Jury has ruled that Stewart was not at fault when his Sprint Car struck Ward after the 21-year old driver walked across the racing surface following a crash.
“During the course of the grand jury presentation, approximately two dozen witnesses testified,” said Tantillo. “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 to charge Tony Stewart (with) any crime.”
Tantillo said two different videos were analyzed, and that those videos “did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Stewart until the point of impact with Ward. Prior to that, (Stewart’s) course was pretty straight.”
|Kevin Ward, Jr.|
In addition, toxicology reports showed that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death, with Tantillo saying, “the levels were enough to impair judgment.” A drug assessment expert spoke to Stewart following the incident and found “no basis to believe there was alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs in Stewart’s case.
Tantillo explained that the grand jury was “not considering whether anybody else was at fault” other than Stewart. “However,” he said, “I am sure from their deliberations and discussions that the fact that Kevin Ward was observed running… into a hot track in the middle of other cars that were still racing, played a big, big factor in their decision. Judgement was the most important factor in this case.”
The Grand Jury considered two possible charges against Stewart; second degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Only 12 votes from the 23-member grand jury were needed to indict on either charge.
“It is clear that a number of witnesses had different perspectives,” said Tantillo. “There were a number of different versions of what had actually taken place. Several important witnesses chose not to make statements to police, so the only way I could find out what they had to say was to subpoena them and compel them to testify, which I did.”
He said he believed Kevin Ward, Sr. (father of the deceased) was “probably disappointed with the outcome.”
Stewart said in written statement that “This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever. 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.”