The three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, 43, was involved in a fatal confrontation during a dirt-track race in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York Saturday. He bumped and sent the car of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. crashing into a wall. Therefore Ward got out of his car and walked towards the middle of the track pointing his finger at Stewart’s car. But as Stewart passed, his car hit and killed Ward.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators don’t have any evidence at this point to support criminal intent. Povero said Monday there were no plans “at this time” to talk to Stewart again.
The incident was recorded in a video taken at the crash scene. Also Monday, Sheriff Philip Povero said authorities he had obtained a second video, one that offered a different view of the incident in which Ward was struck by Stewart’s sprint car.
“At this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behavior or conduct, or that any probable cause of a criminal act, in this investigation,” he said.
The autopsy was completed Monday and it found that Ward died of blunt force trauma.
“He would go to tracks that a lot of other drivers wouldn’t go to,” Chuck Miller, the race director and president for the Empire Super Sprints circuit, said Monday. “If we had co-sanctioned races with other organizations where we really weren’t giving points or anything, but it was a deal where you wanted to see how you stacked up against the other competition, the Wards were willing to go and do that and see where they were at.”
Ward began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4. In 2010, he moved on to sprint cars and was Empire Super Sprint racing rookie of the year in 2012. He raced mostly on dirt tracks a few hours from his home in Port Leyden, a village of 700 in northern New York.
“I don’t want Kevin Ward to be remembered as a victim in a Tony Stewart accident,” driver Cory Sparks said. “He definitely had a future in this sport. He was a very aggressive driver. He was one hell of wheel man.”
Despite his history of aggressive behavior, local authorities say there is no evidence of criminal intent by Stewart. But NASCAR should conduct its own parallel investigation, and keep Stewart out of competition until its completion. And if Stewart’s road rage is found to have played a role in Ward’s death, Stewart should be banned from NASCAR competition for life.
Memorial services will be held Wednesday at the Trainor Funeral Home in Boonville, New York. The funeral is Thursday.