Driver killed by NASCAR champion Tony Stewart had marijuana in his system
A toxicology report is claiming that Kevin Ward Jr. was under the influence of marijuana the night he ran down into the track and was hit by Tony Stewart’s sprint car.
On the night of Aug. 9 during a dirt track race in New York, Ward spun into the wall. He then exited his vehicle and charged down the track, making angry gestures towards Stewart.
In a video of the incident Ward is seen barely managing to avoid being hit by another driver. Coming through the area right behind the first driver, Stewart’s rear tire hits Ward, sending him flying up the track. He was pronounced dead from blunt force trauma.
The area of the track in question was poorly lit and Ward was sporting a black driver-suit that night.
Stewart was brought up on charges of manslaughter in the second degree and criminally negligent homicide.
Ontario County Sheriff’s Department investigated the case and brought in experts to review the two videos of the incident to determine whether cause could be found implicating Stewart of intentionally hitting or steering towards Ward.
District Attorney Michael Tantillo brought the two charges to a grand jury, which reviewed the matter for two days before declining to indict Stewart.
Tantillo said Stewart was presented the opportunity to testify but wouldn’t confirm whether he did. Tantillo said two videos of the incident were examined and revealed there was “no aberrational driving by Tony Stewart.”
“There is toxicology evidence in the case relating to Kevin Ward that actually indicated that at time of operation he was under the influence of marijuana,” Tantillo stated.
Heavy consumers of marijuana can have trace amounts in their body for up to 40 days, while casual consumers can test positive for as little as three days. However, testing positive does not indicate that a person is under the influence of cannabis at the time.
Tantillo was not specific about how much marijuana Ward had in his system and said no toxicology report was presented to the grand jury.
The Ward family issued a statement after hearing Stewart would not be indicted, saying the matter “is not at rest.”
“Our son got out of his car during caution while the race was suspended,” the statement said. “All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car towards him causing this tragedy.
Stewart did not have to provide a blood sample and was not given any type of alcohol or drug test. Police cannot ask someone to submit to a drug test until they are charged with a crime in New York, Tantillo said.
“A certified drug recognition expert had interviewed him on the night of the collision and determined he found no basis to observe any alcohol consumption or impairment by drugs,” Tantillo said.
Key pieces of evidence were two videos, Tantillo said, one that has been made public and another from the track. The one from the track was of better quality, he said, but they both showed the same thing.
The three-time NASCAR champion was never charged and Tantillo could have opted not to take the case to a grand jury.
Tantillo said while he had no expectations, he felt it was necessary to take the case to the grand jury for a variety of reasons, and that its decision should be respected.
“It was clear that a number of witnesses that were interviewed had different perspectives of what they had seen and what they had heard,” Tantillo said. “There were varying versions of what had actually taken place. There was not one, clear monolithic story that was presented to me.
“Additionally, several of the witnesses, important witnesses, chose not to make statements to police. They did not want to make any statements. So the only way I could find out what they had to say or what they had to offer was to subpoena them and compel them to testify, which I did.”
Tantillo, who was elected last year for a seventh four-year term, also said it was important for a group of citizens to make the decision in this case.
“When you have a case of this magnitude, of this interest, I think that is important that the public knows that a large group of citizens drawn at random from the community heard all of the evidence in the case and collectively returned a judgment,” Tantillo said.
Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion following what he called a tragic accident before returning to racing. He has 48 Cup wins in 546 career starts but is winless this year and did not make the championship Chase field.
“This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever,” Stewart said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Stewart says he may quit racing sprint cars altogether after this incident.