NASCAR star Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges for hitting and killing driver Kevin Ward Jr. in an upstate New York sprint car race, local authorities announced today. In the Aug. 9 race, a comparatively minor event in which Stewart was the most famous driver competing, Ward's car appeared to come into contact with Stewart's before spinning out and hitting a wall. With other vehicles passing him at high speed, Ward got out of his car and pointed toward Stewart's car—which had circled back around the track—confrontationally before the latter driver hit and dragged him, killing him. Stewart called the fatal collision an accident. Ward was 20 years old.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo's statement, via NBC affiliate WHEC in Rochester:
During the course of the grand jury presentation, approximately two dozen witnesses testified. These included a number of race car drivers, racetrack employees and volunteers, two accident reconstruction experts, medical personnel, and a number of police officers. In addition, the grand jury reviewed a number of photographs and video recordings, as well as other documentary evidence. After listening to and questioning all of the witnesses, and reviewing all of the evidence, the grand jury has determined that there is no basis to charge Tony Stewart with any crimes; his case was "No-Billed" by the grand jury.
Tantillo told reporters that toxicology tests indicated Ward had marijuana in his system when killed. Marijana can be detected in the body long after its mind-altering effects wear off, but Tantillo specifically said that the level of the drug in Ward's body was "enough to impair judgment" at the time of his death.
Click here to read John Swansburg's Slate examination of the tragedy—and of how Stewart's competitiveness and temperament, which helped make him a popular driver, also contributed to the immediate suspicion that he may have been culpable in this case.