An Ontario County, New York grand jury deliberated less than an hour to reach a decision in the case involving the death of 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York.
According to a statement released by Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo on Wednesday, the grand jury determined that there is “no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes”. The case was “no-billed” by the grand jury.
Two dozen witnesses testified before the grand jury including race car drivers, racetrack employees and volunteers, two accident reconstruction experts, medical personnel, and police officers. The 23 members of the grand jury reviewed all of the evidence including photographs and video recordings.
Charges that could have been filed against Tony Stewart were manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide, but the grand jury did not find “any basis” to charge Stewart with those crimes.
In a post-statement interview with the media, Tantillo revealed that a toxicology screen found that Ward had been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident and the amount that he ingested was enough to impair his judgment.
Ward and Stewart were racing winged sprint cars at the dirt track in upstate New York on Aug. 9 when the pair had contact on the track on lap 14. The contact caused a caution on the track. According to news releases distributed by Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero, Ward had gotten out of his race car and walked onto the racing surface while cars were still in motion under that caution. He approached Stewart’s car and the rear of Stewart’s sprint car struck Ward which resulted in massive blunt force trauma and he died at the scene.
Stewart was taken into custody after the incident for questioning but he was never charged.
Tony Stewart made the following statement after the ruling was announced, as released by Stewart-Haas Racing:
“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.”
NASCAR Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes issued the following statement after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision:
“There are no winners in tragedy. 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.”