Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Phillip C. Povero said Sunday afternoon that there is no evidence that would call for criminal charges against NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. Stewart was involved in an incident Saturday night at Canandiagua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. In the aftermath 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. was dead.
Video showed that Ward had been involved with Stewart on the previous lap. The video showed Ward’s car as it came to rest on the back stretch. Ward exited the vehicle, and still wearing his racing helmet walked toward the line of cars circling under caution. He angrily pointed towards the car driven by Stewart; Stewart’s car struck Ward who was thrown in the air and landed several feet away. Ward was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
"At this moment there are no facts or evidence that would support a criminal charge or criminal intent,"Povero said at a press conference just after 3 p.m. Sunday.
Povero said his office is still gathering evidence including videos from fans who were in attendance Saturday night and also awaiting autopsy results.
“There are no criminal charges pending at this time,” he said. “We have reviewed the investigation to this point with the Ontario County district attorney. At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge, or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual.”
The sheriff was quick to add that the investigation is still ongoing and that photos and video of the incident, which occurred at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, are still being studied. Povero also said that Stewart, who elected to sit out the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at nearby Watkins Glen Sunday morning, is cooperating with investigators and he added is, “free to go about his business.”
One of the areas investigators are looking at is the slick muddy racing surface and the dark firesuit Ward wore on the faintly lit part of the track.
“Certainly that is a dimly lit part of the track,” Povero said. “That is something that is looked at as well as clothing and other conditions that would certainly impact his ability in that area.”
The race was under a caution at the time of the incident and Povero said Stewart was going about 30 to 35 mph when he hit Ward.
“There are no foregone conclusions made at this point,” Povero said. “We’re looking for any information, any relevant evidence, that will help us come to a final determination as to why this happened.”
He added that once the investigation is completed, the evidence will be given to the district attorney, which is standard procedure.