An Ontario County grand jury decided that Stewart should not face criminal charges. The following came from the county D.A. Michael Tantillo:
“During the course of the grand jury presentation, approximately two dozen witnesses testified,” Tantillo said. “These included a number of race-car drivers, race track employees and volunteers, two accident re-constructionists, medical personnel and a number of police officers. The grand jury reviewed a number of photographs and video recordings as well as other documentary evidence.
Obviously the grand jury reviewed a great deal of evidence, and they listened to several experts as well. As most race fans have believed, the grand jury saw it as a tragic accident, not a deliberate criminal act.
However, the grand jury was not made up of race fans. New York law mandates a 23 member grand jury panel. Jurors are selected at random from various data bases such as registered voters, licensed drivers, and property tax rolls. That at least one member of the grand jury was a race fan seems possible. That all 23 would be, actually that more than a few would be, seems statistically impossible. To me that says the decision was a fair decision.
A toxicology report on Kevin Ward Jr. was part of the evidence reviewed. It showed that Ward had traces of marijuana in his system, enough to impair his judgment. Whether that fact would have any influence on possible civil proceedings is something I cannot answer.
I am not going to get into a debate about marijuana being legalized. Did Kevin Ward Jr. smoke a joint before heading to the track as a way to calm his nerves? Only someone with him at the time could answer that question. I guess I am old and naïve in that I have never considered the possibility of racers smoking marijuana or even drinking a beer before going off to race. After this I have no doubt it happens, and probably happens far too often. Most dirt tracks and series do not have the resources to conduct random drug tests of racers and crew members, so what is there to stop this? That bothers me.
Still, the one safety issue that is of most importance coming out of this is tracks need to keep drivers in their car unless remaining in the car is life threatening. ALL tracks and series need to make this a rule, and make penalties stiff for those who break the rule. Kevin Ward Jr. would be alive and racing today if he had remained in his car.
As I mentioned above, I have no idea how marijuana in the system of Kevin Ward Jr. would influence civil proceedings. I truly hope there will be no proceedings. I think it would be best for all parties to reach a settlement out of court. I believe Stewart needs to do something for the family-for his own peace of mind. I am sure that his attorneys and advisors also consider this as part of rebuilding an image that has been damaged severely in this incident. And, I am also sure that such a settlement would include no admission of guilt on the part of Stewart, and confidentiality on the part of the Ward family.
I doubt that Stewart will race a sprint car again. Stewart owned his own team and could do what he wanted to do, but most NASCAR Sprint Cup team owners were already against their drivers participating in local track racing. After this tragedy it would take very special circumstances for owners to allow their drivers to ever race on dirt.
I would like to say this will be my last commentary on this incident, but I suppose that isn’t so. Thanks for stopping by.