Investigators: no criminal charges pending against Tony Stewart at this time

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BREAKING NOW: Tony Stewart says he will not race Sunday in NASCAR Spring Cup in Michigan.

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (CNN) — NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed another driver who was walking on a track during a dirt-track race in upstate New York, authorities said early Sunday.

Kevin Ward Jr., 20, died from injuries suffered in the incident, which occurred Saturday night at the Empire Super Sprints series event at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

The track is about a two-hour drive from Watkins Glen International race track, where Stewart had been scheduled to race in a NASCAR event Sunday.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said Sunday, according to a written statement tweeted by NASCAR. “It’s a very emotional time for all involved. … My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”

Stewart’s team director, Greg Zipadelli, said Sunday morning the driver has decided not to drive in the event.

“Our hearts go out to Kevin’s family,” Zipadelli said. “This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody — his family, our family at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Saturday night, Ward’s sprint car hit the outside wall during lap 14 of a 25-lap race, Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero said.

A video of the incident shows two cars coming out of a turn with Stewart’s No. 14 car sliding up the track toward Ward’s No. 13 car. The two cars get close and appear to make contact before Ward’s car hits the wall and spins out. Another car narrowly avoids hitting the 13 car as its sits on the track facing the wrong direction.

Ward gets out of his crashed car, walking on the track toward the race cars, which had slowed for a yellow flag. Ward points a finger and appears to be yelling. One car swerves to avoid Ward on the half-mile dirt track.

Stewart’s car passes close to Ward, and it appears that its right rear tire hits him.

An ambulance took Ward to a hospital, but he died before it arrived, Povero told reporters.

“Stewart has fully cooperated” with an investigation, Povero said. “He acknowledges the collision with the driver.”

Povero said it appeared to be an on-track incident.

“But I want to make it very clear, there are no criminal charges pending at this time,” he said.

At an afternoon news conference, Povero said investigators had gone to Watkins Glen and hoped to speak with Stewart again.

Ward, from Port Leyden, New York, was in his fifth season in the Empire Super Sprints series. He began racing when he was 4, running go-kart events.

Stewart’s spokesman said they are trying to sort out the details.

“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating,” Mike Arning said. “Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

A competitor, which runs the car that swerved around Ward, expressed sympathy.

“Our deepest condolences go to the entire Ward Family. We are one huge ESS family, you will be truly missed bud! #RIP13,” Hebing Racing tweeted.

Stewart is a three-time champion in NASCAR’s top division and also won a sprint car championship in 1995.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr.,” NASCAR said in a written statement Sunday. “We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race, and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”

Regan Smith will replace Stewart on Sunday, Zipadelli said.

Stewart also owns a dirt race track in New Weston, Ohio, and has frequently raced sprint cars during the NASCAR season. He broke a leg last year in a crash that ended his racing season. He has raced the full NASCAR season this year, but only returned to sprint cars in July.

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    • aaron

      Come on Stewart! Hott head again! Ive watched what you did in black and white! It is what it is! You hit that kid under yellow! Hit the gas! With extreme force! You did not mean the assault I, know! But your older self messed up big time! Please admit what you did? Again if you would have braked cool. But you hit the gas and killed that kid! R.I.P Young Ward. God Bless all the Ward family

  • Richard Fukishima

    The real culprit here are the sports media, ESPN in particular, who highlight and trumpet the in-your-face confrontations on their regular programming. Ward, a local race track driver, saw a chance to make a national name for himself by challenging a well known NASCAR driver and having this replayed over and over on television. Ward’s behavior was uncalled for and has not only put a black mark on Stewart’s career but also could have caused injury to other racers and track employees. We may never know Stewart’s true motive in this incident but if Ward had not made his fatal choice this would not be a discussion today. Sadly, its not just this incident but many others that occur daily for the cameras, the hard hits in football that cause concussions and other long term injuries, the baseball fights, basketball show-offs, and on and on. The camera changes behavior and the huckster’s who offer up commentary supporting these show-boaters are as responsible for Ward’s death as Ward himself.

  • Jamie Updyke

    Sounds to me the ward dude had a hot temper that got him killed sprint cars are very fast and there’s a lot going on while your in them I’m sure Stewart was unaware he was running up on his car till it was to late ward must of missed the part in the safety meetings that you stay in your car unless on fire or leaking

  • Dennis Thomas

    Tony has a Big temper issue pproblem.hopefully justice will be severed.manslaughter charges n years n jail n Sued By the ward family.

  • Nancy

    The young man should never have approached Tonys car. Other cars passed him and it could have been anyone that hit him! Just an all around tragic accident!

  • Hello

    He should have never got out of his car! Tony Stewart is a great driver and I’m sure he never did this on purpose. Our prayers are with the Stewart family, I’m sure he is going through hell also along with the Ward family.