Tony Stewart Cleared in Fatal Track Accident by Grand Jury

Sep 24, 2014 09:09 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro


NASCAR driver Tony Stewart has been cleared by a grand jury investigating a dirt-track incident in upstate New York in August that killed driver Kevin Ward Jr.

Stewart, 43, one of the biggest names in auto racing, hit and killed Ward, 20, during a non-NASCAR sprint-car race on Aug. 9 on a dimly lit section of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park track.

Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the race and the collision sent Ward into an outside retaining wall while Stewart remained in the race.

Ward jumped from his car in an attempt to confront Stewart during the caution period. When Stewart's car came around the next lap, Ward pointed at Stewart. As Stewart reached Ward, his car seemed to swerve, hitting Ward and throwing him 50 feet.

Ward died shortly after of blunt force trauma.

Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said authorities submitted possible charges of manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide against Stewart and the grand jury "determined that there is no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes."

The grand jury saw accident reconstructions, looked over photographs, and two video recordings of the incident. They heard from witnesses and were presented other evidence before voting on Wednesday, but did not indict Stewart.

Toxicology tests showed that Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night of the incident, Tantillo said. Stewart was not tested, but was interviewed that night by a certified drug recognition expert.

Early in the investigation, authorities maintained that there was no evidence of criminal behavior by Stewart, but refrained from clearing him completely as they tried to figure out if he hit throttle as he approached Ward.

Stewart took three weeks off from racing before returning on Aug. 31.

A week after the accident, NASCAR introduced a rule that forces drivers to remain in their cars until a track safety official tells them they can exit.

If the vehicle is on fire or filled with smoke, drivers can leave immediately, according to the rule.

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