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N.Y. grand jury declines to charge NASCAR driver Tony Stewart

A grand jury on Wednesday declined to charge NASCAR driver Tony Stewart in the death of a sprint car driver at a short track in upstate New York this summer.

Michael Tantillo, the district attorney for Ontario County, N.Y., announced the grand jury’s decision on Wednesday afternoon. Tantillo had forwarded evidence gathered by his office and the county sheriff’s department to the grand jury, which began hearing testimony from witnesses on Tuesday.

A sprint car driven by Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward, who was walking on the track at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park while the Aug. 9 race was under caution.

Stewart, who sat out three NASCAR Sprint Cup races after Ward died in New York, has raced four times since. He pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

At an emotional news conference in Atlanta at the end of August, Stewart said: “This will affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life. I know the pain and mourning Kevin Ward’s family and friends are experiencing is something I can’t possibly imagine.”

The sheriff’s office said last week it had submitted what it described as a “thorough” investigation to the district attorney’s office for review, including a recently received forensic video enhancement completed by the New York State Police laboratory in Albany, N.Y.

The sheriff’s office has been in possession of at least two videos of the incident, only one of which has been viewed by the public.

According to a handbook from the New York State Unified Court System, a grand jury can vote to indict an individual if it finds sufficient evidence that a crime has occurred to take the case to trial. Otherwise, the case can be dismissed or the grand jury can direct the prosecutor to file information accusing the person of an offense less serious than a felony.

The crash that killed Ward happened on a half-mile dirt track when Stewart’s car slid into Ward’s and pushed it into the wall. Ward’s car spun and hit the wall, and the race was placed under caution.

After the crash, Ward left his car, stepped quickly toward the infield and stood in the middle of the track, pointing in what appeared to be an accusatory way toward Stewart’s car coming toward him.

As Stewart approached Ward, his car appeared to speed up. Then the right side of Stewart’s car hit Ward, knocking him several yards down the track. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua.

Staff writer David Scott contributed.

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