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NASCAR Driver Not Charged with Crime in Racetrack Death

Grand Jury Declines Criminal Charges against Tony Stewart

Three time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart received a “no-bill” from a New York grand jury investigation the death of another driver in a sprint car race in upstate New York in August. The no-bill means that Stewart won’t face criminal charges in the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. Ward died after Stewart’s car struck and killed him during a dirt track race.

At the time of Ward’s death, he and Stewart were participating in a race on a small track in Canandaigua, New York. Witnesses say that Ward spun out while racing next to Stewart, then climbed out of his car and walked down the middle of the track, waving at Stewart and seemingly trying to confront him. Another driver swerved to avoid Ward, as did Stewart, but Stewart’s right rear tire clipped Ward and threw him through the air. Ward died shortly thereafter of blunt force trauma. Police reported that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident and that it was “enough to impair judgment.”

Stewart has not commented on the events related to or surrounding the accident, other than to express his sorrow at Ward’s death. Stewart told prosecutors that he would cooperate in their investigation, but did not testify before the grand jury. Ward’s father contended that the accident was unnecessary, given Stewart’s skills as a driver, and contended that his son emerged from his car during a caution. He alleged that while others were slowing down, Stewart intentionally accelerated and slid his car toward Ward.

NASCAR officials have since implemented a new rule that prohibits drivers from climbing out of a disabled vehicle until safety personnel arrive, unless the vehicle is on fire.

Legal experts say that the likelihood of criminal charges was remote, as prosecutors are reluctant to press charges for actions that occur during competition, unless they were clearly outside of the scope of competition.

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