Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges for hitting and killing Kevin Ward Jr. in an on-track accident Saturday, according to Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero.
Povero explained at a news conference, “There are no criminal charges pending at this time.” The Washington Post notes that Povero and the police department reviewed the investigation with the Ontario County district attorney and “there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge.”
Stewart and Ward Jr. were racing Saturday night at a dirt-track race in Canandaigua, New York, when the two tangled and Ward’s car was wrecked. The 20-year-old driver exited his car to confront Stewart and was struck by Stewart’s car. Officials said the sprint cars were going between 30 and 35 mph when Ward was hit.
The driver was pronounced dead that night after being taken to a hospital.
ABC News notes that Tony Stewart released a statement Sunday about the accident, saying:
“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… My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
The sheriff noted in his statement about charges that Tony Stewart has been cooperating with police and appeared “very upset” over what happened. Povero added that there are no facts in the case that indicate any criminal intent on Stewart’s part. He noted, “This is right now being investigated as an on-track crash and I don’t want to infer that there are criminal charges pending.”
Povero added, “When the investigation is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it. But I want to make it very clear: There are no criminal charges pending at this time.”
Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann notes that, just because there are no criminal charges now doesn’t mean Stewart won’t ever face them. The absence of criminal intent in a sheriff’s estimation doesn’t mean the NASCAR driver will avoid charges.
A lack of charges doesn’t mean they won’t be brought at a later date and officials are reviewing videotape to see what happened. Tyler Graves, a spring car racer and a friend of Ward’s, suggested in an interview that Stewart acted with a degree of intent.
He recalled, “I know Tony could see [Ward]… When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle.” Graves’ testimony could imply that Stewart intended to scare Ward, a move that could be considered reckless conduct.
Should other drivers make similar comments as Graves, the sheriff and district attorney could see increased pressure to pursue charges against Tony Stewart.