Tony Stewart hits, kills Sprint car racer Kevin Ward Now The NASCAR champion is under Investigations
|Tony Stewart hits, kills Sprint car racer Kevin Ward|
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened.
|Kevin Ward Jr|
"He was visibly shaken by this accident," Povero said.
On Sunday afternoon, Povero reiterated that Stewart would not face criminal charges. "As we have reviewed the investigation to this point, with the district attorney, I want to make it very clear, as we speak at this time, no evidence in hand, no facts that would support a criminal charge or criminal attempt on party of anyone," he said.
"He is free to go about his business."
"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in a statement released Sunday. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."
Stewart had planned to race Sunday at Watkins Glen, but his racing team announced Sunday morning that the 43-year-old would not drive in the event
"We feel strongly that this is the right thing to do,"Stewart's racing team manager Greg Zipadelli said, calling Ward Jr.'s death "an unbelievable tragedy."
|Tony Stewart The NASCAR champion is Now under Investigations|
"He's going through a tough time," Zipadelli said of Stewart. "It's emotional for him. We as a group support him. We feel like he's doing the right thing."
Stewart, in his own statement, echoed Zipadelli's statement, saying, "It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in today's race at Watkins Glen."
NASCAR supported Stewart's decision and said that it would monitor the situation as the investigation continues. In a statement, NASCAR said that the organization's "thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr."
"We appreciate the prayers and support we are receiving from the community, but we need time to grieve and wrap our heads around all of this," Ward Jr.'s family said in a statement.
A video of the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park showed driver Kevin Ward Jr., wearing a black helmet and firesuit on a dimly lit track, walking toward Stewart's car before being hit and hurtled 50 feet.
Povero said the 25-lap race was under caution when Ward was struck. Stewart's car was behind another before he hit Ward.
"The first car swerved to avoid the driver," Povero said.
Povero said the driver was pronounced dead Saturday night at a Canandaigua hospital. Stewart was unhurt.
|A Sad Day on the Trac|
"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."
Another witness, a friend of Ward Jr.'s, accused Stewart of targeting the driver, telling The Sporting News, "I know Tony could see him. I know how you can see out of these cars.
"When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle," Tyler Graves told The Sporting News. "When you hit a throttle on a spring car, the car sets sideways. It set sideways, the right rear tire hit Kevin, Kevin was sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two and then it threw him about 50 yards."
Povero said the 43-year-old Stewart, a frequent competitor at local sprint car events, was questioned and released. The sheriff asked for people who recorded video of the crash to provide copies for investigators to review.
A spokesman for Stewart's racing team called Ward's death a "tragic accident."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends," the spokesman said in a statement. "We're still attempting to sort through all the details."
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.