NASCAR driver Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges for his role in the death of fellow racer Kevin Ward — who prosecutors said was under the influence of drugs when he was killed.
A New York grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict Stewart, 43, after hearing testimony starting this week.
Ward, 20, was killed on Aug. 9 when a car driven by Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion struck and killed him during a dirt track race in Canandaigua. The young driver had climbed from his car to confront Stewart when he was struck. Ward died of blunt force trauma.
In announcing the results of the grand jury probe, Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo also revealed that the investigation found that Ward had marijuana in his system at the time of his death.
"The levels that were determined were enough to impair judgment," said Tantillo. "There was no toxicology work performed on Tony Stewart. However, a certified drug recognition expert had interviewed him on the night of the collision and determined that he found no basis to observe any alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs."
He also noted that there was "no aberrational driving by Stewart prior to the impact with Ward."
"The fact that Kevin Ward was observed running basically two-thirds down the track, into a hot track ... played a big role in (the grand jury's) decision," said Tantillo.
A civil suit could still result from the incident. In a statement after the announcement, Ward's family said they believe Stewart "intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car towards him, causing this tragedy. The focus should be on the actions of Tony Stewart and not Kevin. The matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies, in fairness to Kevin."
Stewart also released a statement saying, "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."
He added, "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 also sent out a statement, saying, "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."
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