The Todd and Don Blog
Exclusive Video: Tony Stewart pulls out of race after fatal crash
http://www.jaxarrest.com - (Legal Analysis Contained Below)
On August 9, 2014, there was a serious crash at Canandaigua, New York Motorsports Park, a dirt track. Tony Stewart struck fellow driver, 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr. His website (kevinwardracing.com) indicates he is 17, but has not been updated in some time. He was in his fifth season with the Empire Super Sprints circuit. Stewart is a very successful 43-year-old NASCAR driver and was supposed to participate in a race at Watkins Glen on ESPN the following day at noon.
A hospital spokeswoman said Ward was hospitalized with "life-threatening injuries" following a "serious accident." They later confirmed Ward died. Police were speaking to his parents as of early Sunday morning.
Racing was canceled as police took over to investigate. Here is the Sheriff's press conference- http://youtu.be/mrdEdjcQCtI.
Witnesses say, "It happened in Turn 2," said the 27-year-old Dulski. "The prior lap, Tony had gotten into him – just spun him, nothing big, just spun him around. The caution came out. He hopped out of the car – the driver of the 13 ... he hopped out to go and yell and point a finger at Tony, typical thing.
"Tony came around ... the back end slid out, and he definitely caught him – I couldn't tell if it was with the front or the back of the car. ... The body made contact with the car and went sliding across the track a long distance, at least 50 feet. It was the worst thing I've ever seen."
Graves, 16, of Bolivar, N.Y., said "Tony and Kevin were battling. … I believe they got together on the front-stretch, Kevin hit the wall and his tire went down. So he spun between (turns) 1 and 2. He got out of the car after the caution was thrown and began to walk down the track, pointing right at the 14, throwing his hands all around. The last thing I seen Kevin do was put his finger to his helmet."
Graves said he saw Stewart's car swerve and the right rear tire hit Ward. Ward was caught up under the tire and then was launched about 50 yards. Ward hit the ground and didn't move, according to Graves.
Another interview can be heard here - http://youtu.be/UTyGaST1REE.
In July of last year, Stewart also was involved in an incident at the Canandaigua track. He sparked a multi-car wreck that sent two drivers to the hospital with injuries. Stewart has had run-ins with what some call temper-related issues throughout his career. He was fined and put on probation by both NASCAR and Home Depot for an incident with a photographer after the Brickyard 400 and also investigated by the Sullivan County, TN sheriff's department for allegedly shoving a woman after the race in Bristol. A safety worker from New Hampshire is accusing Tony of punching him after Stewart wrecked out of the July race. When you have Stewart's status, people also line up to make claims against you.
KEVIN WARD, JR.
As this article discusses, Kevin was having a little rough luck in his last few races- http://www.dirttrackdigest.com/kevin-ward-jr-cant-seem-to-catch-a-break-.... There were no known prior incidents such as this.
The "vehicular manslaughter" codes of New York generally apply to vehicles on the roadway. This was obviously a race and contest, thus we do not believe those fully apply. Manslaughter in the second degree in New York states: "A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when... He recklessly causes the death of another person." Certainly, other criminal codes could apply.
As criminal defense lawyers look at this, the question will come as to what Tony Stewart saw and intended and what forensically can be determined by this video evidence and other accounts and evidence. It is significant that the lap was UNDER CAUTION because of the initial wreck Stewart caused to Ward. If Stewart, in fact, intended to scare or intimidate or hit Ward, or was determined to be exceedingly reckless, Tony Stewart could likely be charged with manslaughter unless there was an intent to cause harm. Mitigating factors would be the fact that Ward was wearing all black on a known dark corner of the track and exited his car. Many tracks make drivers sign waivers and otherwise enforce the very limited circumstances an on-track vehicle should be exited. Stewart's history of aggression may work against him, but the comparative liability of Ward exiting his vehicle is certainly a factor.
Civil liability is separate and may also follow for wrongful death where death was "caused by the wrongful conduct of the defendant."
At this time, not enough facts are known. Police are likely to do a full investigation before making issuing too much of a statement or making any decision on criminal charges or arrest. Thoughts and prayers to all involved. This is for informational purposes only. For more details, visit http://wp.me/p2TQEg-Pb.
Tony Stewart pulled out of the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen Sunday, 12 hours after the three-time champion struck and killed a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the darkened dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said at a news conference that Stewart "feels strongly" about not racing Sunday following Kevin Ward Jr.'s fatal accident. The decision was an about-face for the organization, which had said when the track opened that Stewart would be behind the wheel of his No. 14 Chevrolet when the green flag waved.
"We gave Tony some time to sleep on it. He feels strongly this is the right thing to do," Zipadelli said. "All you can do is what you feel is right, and we feel this is right. We get through today and do it the best we can as a group.
"He's going through a tough time. It's emotional for him."
Regan Smith will drive Stewart's car instead.
Ward had crashed following contact with Stewart one lap earlier and got out of his car as it was stopped along the fence. Video of the incident showed Ward walking from his crashed car onto the racing surface as cars circled by, and, as he gestured at Stewart's passing car, he was struck.
Authorities questioned Stewart but said no criminal charges were imminent. Stewart traveled to Watkins Glen International following police questioning.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said Stewart was "visibly shaken" and had been cooperative in the investigation. Authorities were asking spectators and others to turn over any video they recorded of the crash.
"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 said. "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."
A witness said it appeared Ward was trying to confront Stewart, the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. The video showed Ward standing to the right of Stewart's familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit him.
Moments earlier, Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side for position as they exited a turn. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the bottom, seemed to slide toward Ward's car and crowd him toward the wall. The rear tire of Stewart's car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward's car, and Ward spun into the fence.
Povero said Ward, who was wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, had walked into the racing area and one car swerved to avoid him before he was struck by Stewart.
"The next thing I could see, I didn't see (the other driver) anymore," witness Michael Messerly said. "It just seemed like he was suddenly gone."
A spokesman for Stewart's racing team called Ward's death a "tragic accident."
The dirt track, about 30 miles southeast of Rochester, canceled the remainder of the race and later posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging fans to "pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers, and families."
Ward's website said he began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4, but didn't start driving sprint cars until 2010. The 20-year-old from Port Leyden, New York, was Empire Super Sprint rookie of the year in 2012 and this year was his fifth season racing the Empire Super Sprints.
Stewart often competes in extracurricular events like the race on Saturday. The multimillionaire is known to participate in races with purses worth less than $3,000 and drive alongside drivers of varying ages and talent levels.
The crash Saturday came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season. Stewart only returned to sprint track racing last month, and won in his return, at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Michigan.
But the broken leg cost him the entire second-half of last season and sidelined him during NASCAR's important Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Stewart wasn't cleared to get back in a race car until February, the day the track opened for preparations for NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500 began.
"Everybody has hobbies. Everybody has stuff they like to do when they have downtime, and that's just what it is for me," he said last month following his return to sprint car racing. "That's what I like to do when I have extra time. I don't think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that."
Among Stewart's many business interests is his ownership of Ohio dirt track Eldora Speedway, which last month hosted the NASCAR Truck Series, and his stake in Stewart-Haas Racing, which fields cars for Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.
He's struggled a bit this year since returning from his leg injury, and heads into Sunday's race winless on the season and ranked 19th in the standings.
Stewart had been scheduled to start 13th on Sunday at Watkins Glen, one of just five remaining races for Stewart to either score a win or move inside the top 16 in points to grab a valuable spot in NASCAR's Chase.
The site of Saturday night's crash is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and AP writer Mike Sisak contributed to this report.