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Official: No facts support probable cause of criminal behavior in death

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Investigators continued their work Monday to determine what led to Tony Stewart’s sprint car striking and killing another driver during a weekend race.

Authorities are working to interview drivers who competed Saturday in the Lucas Oil Super Sprints race at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park in western New York, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero said.

Photos, videos and eyewitnesses accounts also are being collected, the sheriff said.

During a late Monday afternoon news conference, Povero said no criminal charges have been filed against Stewart and investigators don’t have any facts that would support probable cause

of any criminal behavior by the 43-year-old Columbus native.

“We’re continuing to reach out to any individuals that have firsthand knowledge or may have witnessed the crash,” Povero said.

Investigators are analyzing two videos of the incident, which resulted in the death of driver Kevin Ward Jr., the sheriff said.

Stewart was interviewed following the accident Saturday night, and members of his race team were interviewed at the Watkins Glen race track on Sunday, where a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held, the sheriff’s office said.

Investigators said Stewart was visibly shaken by the sprint-car incident but was cooperative.

Stewart was not drug-tested following the accident, Povero said. The veteran driver and his racing team continue to be available and cooperative with investigators.

Povero said the investigation is ongoing and “all options remain available. We’re continuing to gather and analyze every piece of evidence we can.”

Investigators contacted Stewart’s staff Monday, but Povero said there are no current plans to talk with Stewart again.

Investigators are looking into everything from the dim lighting on a portion of the track to how muddy it was, as well as if the dark fire suit worn by Ward played a role in his death, given the conditions.

Povero said both racecars involved in the accident were examined by forensics experts and returned to the drivers. Stewart’s car was fielded by Tony Stewart Racing. Neither car had an on-board camera.

Ward, 20, died from massive blunt trauma, Povero said. The autopsy was completed Monday.

There is no timetable as to how long the investigation will take or when it will conclude, Povero said.

Stewart in seclusion

There was no immediate decision if Stewart would drive in this weekend’s NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, although he is on the entry list for the Michigan race.

Stewart “will have as much time as he needs to make that decision,” team spokesman Mike Arning said Monday. “It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn’t have a timetable.”

Stewart was 19th in the NASCAR points standings going into the Watkins Glen race and slipped to 21st going into this Sunday’s race. Only the top 16 qualify to compete for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. There are four more races before the final field of 16 is set.

The driver has been staying with friends since the accident, Arning said.

Arning said Stewart’s extracurricular racing plans are on hold until further notice.

Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway said on its website that Stewart had withdrawn from a scheduled sprint-car race there Saturday.

Canandaigua Speedway promoter Jeremie Corcoran said Monday the track has canceled a racing event Wednesday to give “staff, fans and racing teams time to grieve and process all that has occurred.”

Stewart’s private plane flew into the Columbus Municipal Airport on Monday afternoon. Afterward, an unidentified man carried two luggage bags aboard before it took off again. Stewart was not seen entering or exiting the plane.

Ward’s funeral was set for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Trainor Funeral Home in Boonville, New York, with visitation on Wednesday, according to the Empire Super Sprint Series, in which Ward competed since 2010.

In a message on the Empire website, the family thanked people who had sent notes, calls and texts. The statement also said the family was very proud of Ward.

Recap of crash

Saturday’s incident occurred about 10:30 p.m. on the Canandaigua dirt oval, on lap 14 of a scheduled 25-lap race. Empire Super Sprints official results had 22 cars competing before the race was canceled.

Stewart was racing a sprint car, No. 14, on the track the night before he was to compete in the Watkins Glen NASCAR race.

Ward, driving the No. 13 car, crashed following a bump with Stewart as the two drivers jockeyed for position in Turn 2.

A video showed the two drivers racing side by side for position as they exited Turn 2. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the inside of the track, appeared to slide toward Ward’s car and crowd him toward the wall. Ward’s car spun into the fence, and a caution was called.

The video showed Ward getting out of his car and walking to the center of the racetrack, gesturing toward approaching drivers, including Stewart.

As the cars approached Ward, one car swerved to avoid him. Stewart, who was behind that car, struck Ward with a right rear tire as Ward stood to the right of Stewart’s moving sprint car. The video shows that the rear wheel of Stewart’s car seems to kick out and hit Ward.

Povero said Ward’s parents were at the track watching the race when their son was struck.

Questions remain

The crash raised several questions, including:

Will Ward’s death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations?

Did Stewart try and send his own message by buzzing Ward, the young driver, only to have his risky move turn fatal?

Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black fire suit on a dark track?

Stewart, his family and representatives of Stewart-Haas Racing are not speaking to the media about the incident, said Arning of True Speed Communication.

On Sunday, Stewart released a statement that his thoughts and prayers are with Ward’s family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.

Povero said there have been fatal accidents at the race track in the past, but he could not recall the last time it happened.

David S. Weinsten, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice, said it would be difficult to prove criminal intent on Stewart’s part.

“I think even with the video, it’s going to be tough to prove that this was more than just an accident and that it was even culpable negligence, which he should’ve known or should’ve believed that by getting close to this guy, that it was going to cause the accident,” he said.

Chris Jones, a reporter with The Republic, a sister paper to The Daily Journal, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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