Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges in the crash that killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park on Aug. 9.
The determination that charges will not be filed was made by a grand jury in Ontario County (N.Y.) Wednesday afternoon, following two days of hearings.
"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 Aug. 9, 2014. The grand jury has completed its investigation," said Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo. "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."
Tantillo also said marijuana was detected in Ward’s system during his autopsy. Tantillo said the levels were enough to "impair" Ward’s judgment.
Just minutes after Wednesday afternoon’s grand jury decision, Stewart released a statement through his publicist, Mike Arning.
"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," the statement read.
"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."
NASCAR followed with a statement from NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes.
"There are no winners in tragedy," the statement read. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Kevin Ward Jr. family and Tony Stewart as they all cope with this tragic incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. This has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we have respected the local authorities responsible for reviewing this case."
Ward died in a crash during an Empire Super Sprints Series race at the half-mile upstate New York dirt track. Stewart was inside of Ward when he drifted to the outside and Ward made contact with the wall.
Under caution, Ward got out of his car and walked toward Stewart’s car, gesturing at the three-time NASCAR champion. As Stewart’s car approached Ward, Stewart’s right-rear wheel hit Ward, who was thrown into the air and died as a result of the contact.
In a press conference Aug. 10, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Phillip C. Povero said, "At this moment there are no facts or evidence that would support a criminal charge or criminal intent."
But two days later, the Ontario County District Attorney’s office announced that the investigation could last two or more weeks. The Office of the Sheriff announced Sept. 11 said the investigation was completed and the case was being forwarded to the District Attorney.
A statement issued by the Sheriff’s Office Sept. 11 said, "The entire thorough investigation, including a forensic video enhancement recently received from the New York State Police Laboratory in Albany, has been submitted to the Office of the Ontario County District for review. The District Attorney’s Office, which has been meeting throughout the investigative process with members of the Sheriff’s Office, will make a statement late next week advising what action will be taken regarding the investigation."
Then on Sept. 16, the District Attorney said the case would be turned over to the grand jury.
Stewart missed the first three Sprint Cup races after Ward’s death, returning at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Aug 29. At Atlanta, a visibly distraught Stewart read from a prepared statement. He did not answer any questions.
"This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life," said Stewart. "With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something that I can’t possibly imagine."
Stewart thanked his friends, family and the NASCAR community for standing by him.
"I’ve taken the last couple weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way," he said. "It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates, and I miss being back in the race car. I think getting back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time."
Late Wednesday, Ward’s parents released a statement, as read over the phone to the Associated Press by Ward’s sister, Kayla Herring.
"Our son got out of his car during caution when the race was suspended," the statement said. "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 Mr. Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin."