In a tragic accident, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hit and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. on Saturday night. Ward was outside his sprint car at the time during a dirt-track race in the Empire Super Sprints series at the Canandaigua (New York) Motorsports Park.
Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero confirmed that a driver, whom he did not name, was transported to a nearby hospital. The driver was pronounced dead on arrival, per Prescott Rossi of WROC-TV in Rochester, New York:
Povero identifies Tony Stewart as hitting driver on the track. Driver was transported by ambulance. Driver was dead on arrival.— Prescott Rossi (@PrescottRossi) August 10, 2014
Povero not releasing name of the driver as they try to notify other family members.— Prescott Rossi (@PrescottRossi) August 10, 2014
Povero later confirmed Ward's cause of death on Monday and discussed the possibility of criminal conduct (via Marty Smith of ESPN and Fox Sports NASCAR):
Povero: "Cause of Death: Massive blunt trauma."— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) August 11, 2014
Ontario Co. Sheriff Povero "As we speak, at this time, there are no facts that exist that support criminal behavior or conduct..."— FOX SPORTS: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) August 11, 2014
The Ontario County Sheriff's Office released this statement:
On Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at or about 10:30 p.m., there was an on-track incident at the Exit of Turn 2 at the Canandiagua Motorsports Park, during the Lucas Oil SuperSprint Feature race. The race was in Lap 14 of a 25-lap race, when one car lost control and spun coming to rest along the outside retaining wall. The race was immediately put into caution, slowing the cars on the track. The driver of the car that spun exited the race car and walked down the track onto the racing surface. Two race cars traveling in tandem approached as the driver continued down the track, gesturing to the two approaching cars. The first car swerved to avoid the driver out on the track. The second car, operated by Tony Stewart, struck the driver. The driver was treated by on-track medical staff and was transported to F.F. Thompson Hospital, where he was pronounced deceased at 11:15 p.m. At this point, Mr. Stewart has cooperated with the investigation, which is ongoing. The Sheriff's Office has asked the individuals who possess amateur video to please make contact with this office so that copies of the video accounts can be obtained for review. Please contact the Sheriff's Office at 585-394-4560.
Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer confirmed the driver was 20-year-old Ward.
Driver Kevin Ward Jr. was dead on arrival at the hospital— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) August 10, 2014
Stewart released a statement on Sunday, courtesy of NASCAR:
Charley Hanagan of Syracuse.com provides comments from Kevin Ward Sr.:
He was just a very God-gifted kid," Ward Sr. said Tuesday afternoon. "I think he slept with a smile on his face."
Kevin shouldn't be known for the collision that killed him, his father said. "He was a special person to many, and a very special person to his family," he said.
The Sporting News' Bob Pockrass spoke with Tyler Graves, who's a friend of Ward's and a fellow sprint car racer, for an eyewitness account of the accident. What set the tragic turn of events in motion was a wreck by Ward, which Stewart had a part in:
Tony pinched him into the frontstretch wall, a racing thing. The right rear tire went down, he spun on the exit of (Turn) 2. They threw the caution, and everything was toned down. Kevin got out of his car. He was throwing his arms up all over the place at Tony for most of the corner.
Ward began walking down the track and gesturing toward Stewart. When Stewart came around, Graves said the NASCAR star hit the throttle and eventually made contact with Ward, which caused Ward to get "sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two, and then it threw him about 50 yards."
Graves made clear that he didn't believe Stewart intentionally hit Ward.
USA Today's Jeff Gluck had this from Stewart's spokesman:
A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details, and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.
Adam Longo of CBS 5 in Phoenix spoke to a fan at the track who said the turn in which Stewart made contact with Ward isn't lit very well. It could have in part led to the accident:
UPDATE: Witness: Turn 2 at Canandaigua Speedway is not well lit. Driver who got hit was wearing black.— Adam Longo (@adamlongoCBS5) August 10, 2014
The local district attorney has been made aware of the event, per Rossi, but isn't planning any charges at the moment:
District attorney's office has been notified. "This is an ongoing investigation of an on-track crash." No charges pending at this time.— Prescott Rossi (@PrescottRossi) August 10, 2014
Rossi added a few more details from Povero's press conference:
Sheriff Povero: "Mr. Stewart has been fully cooperative... He is very upset and confirmed his contiuning cooperation."— Prescott Rossi (@PrescottRossi) August 10, 2014
Povero: "People that witnessd it were horrified. They were extremely shocked.. The people at Canandaigua Motorsports have cooperated fully."— Prescott Rossi (@PrescottRossi) August 10, 2014
On Tuesday, Sheriff Povero addressed the media again. Amy Young of WROC-TV provided details:
NBC News' Erin McClan provides details from driver Paul Kinney, who was racing the night of the accident:
“That’s obviously not a racing incident,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to get out of your car and run towards other cars. But nobody can speak for Tony. Only Tony knows exactly what happened.”
Still, he said: “I seen Kevin clear as day. Nobody else ran into him, either.”
Stewart, who competes in stock car, truck and sprint car races, was also involved in a 15-sprint car crash, for which he took responsibility, at the same race track one year ago.