Tony Stewart is one of NASCAR’s most accomplished drivers, but he made headlines for a different reason in August. The professional driver was competing in a dirt-track race in upstate New York when he hit and killed a 20-year-old man, Kevin Ward Jr., while he was outside his vehicle.
Minutes before Stewart’s car struck Ward’s body, the two had a collision with their vehicles that ended Ward’s day. An angry Ward jumped out of his car and ran onto the track, even though the other cars continued racing. Nobody will likely know exactly what Ward was trying to accomplish by running on the track, and we may never learn what Stewart was thinking in the few seconds before his car hit Ward’s body.
Some speculated that Stewart was attempting to “buzz” by Ward but accidentally hit him. Others say that Stewart was trying to avoid the fatal collision and Ward bears total blame for his death. Another group believes that Stewart intentionally hit Ward in a spat of road rage.
It does not appear that Stewart will be prosecuted for the death of Ward. Car racing is an inherently dangerous sport and there would likely need to be compelling evidence that Stewart intentionally ran over Ward. However, that doesn’t mean that Ward’s family won’t bring a wrongful death lawsuit against Stewart.
Ward’s family believe Stewart bears blame for the fatal crash, and has even suggested to the media that it is unsatisfied with the district attorney’s decision to not bring charges. All signs indicate that Ward’s family plans to file a civil lawsuit against Stewart.
The Stewart-Ward crash illustrates how the American criminal and civil courts work independently to see that justice is done. The O.J. Simpson case is the most famous illustration of how being acquitted of criminal charges does not mean that the accused wrongdoer will not face legal repercussions. Simpson lost his wealth and reputation in the wrongful death lawsuit, which has a lower burden of proof.
Source: NY Post, “Stewart: Fatal Crash Was ‘100 Percent’ An Accident,” Sept. 26, 2014