The tragic case of Tony Stewart striking and killing Kevin Ward, Jr. in a sprint car race earlier this week has been dividing opinions, with some screaming for Stewart's head and others saying that Ward brought it upon himself. But while local law enforcement did not initially arrest Stewart or press criminal charges, that doesn't mean that criminal charges won't still be filed.

Although legal experts seem to agree that a first-degree murder charge could only come about if Stewart were to profess to criminal intent, he could still be charged with second-degree murder if he's thought to have acted recklessly with a "depraved indifference to human life" or first-degree manslaughter if he had intended to intimidate Ward but ended up killing him.

Athletes are regularly allowed to do to each other in the field of competition what would otherwise be considered criminal. Think of football players tackling each other, hockey players getting into fist fights on the ice or baseball players sliding into each other to take a base. Depending on the specific series or discipline, racing has its share of rubbing and bumping, but if Stewart's actions – purposeful or accidental – prove to be outside the realm of normal competition, he could yet face charges. The issue is complicated, however, by such factors as poor lighting on the track and lack of comprehensive video footage at the time of the collision.

Even if Stewart manages to escape criminal prosecution, though, he would likely have to face a civil suit from Ward's family – one which, given his public profile and amassed fortune – he could potentially settle out of court. If you have an opinion you which to share, let us know what you think in our informal poll below.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 99 Comments
      Silver
      • 4 Months Ago

      Getting of the car was definitely a mistake. We'll ever know if Stewart meant to hit Ward Jr. or not, but that's something Stewart will have to live with. Tragic situation all around. I wonder how much press this would have gotten if it had been two random racers instead of Stewart and Ward Jr.. 

        SetNick
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Silver

        I seriously doubt he meant to hit the kid.  You ever met the guy in person?  I have, and yes he is a force to reckon with on the track, but as down to earth as one can be.  This entire situation sucks.

        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Silver

        A charge of 2nd degree murder does not depend on Stewart's intent to hit Ward.  If he was being reckless,, such as trying to give Ward a "dirt spray" or just driving too fast past the wrecked car than the yellow flag requires, and that recklessness led to death, then there is legal grounds for murder in the 2nd.  It would be similar to hitting a kid while driving fast, while drunk or even falling asleep at the wheel.  Still has possible jail time.  This could be decided by a jury presented with videos, eyewitness testimonies, and without any admonition from Stewart.

        If he did intend to hit him, which I seriously doubt, and he admitted it, then his charged would be murder in the 1st degree.  I don't think anyone thinks that charge will ever be filed. 

        Even if Stewart is found not guilty by criminal court or charges are dropped or never filed, Stewart is likely to face a hefty civil battle by Wards family.

          what
          • 4 Months Ago
          @BipDBo

          I like the Stewart nut swingers down voting this post despite the fact that it's accurate.

          His intent is irrelevant to whether charges should be filed and only relevant as to what charges should be filed.

          I've seen the video, there's enough there for probable cause and a jury should decide after weighing all admissible evidence.

          Ron
          • 4 Months Ago
          @BipDBo

          I disagree; even if he drove too fast, or even if he admitted to trying to give Ward a dirt spray; there is still no grounds for a 2nd degree murder charge.  

          Racing is dangerous, and anyone that races knows that each driver and team signs waivers of liability for exactly this reason; a good well known example would be the death of Dale Earnhardt. In that crash, Marlin's front bumper came into contact with Earnhardt's left rear bumper. and caused the accident. He too could of been called reckless. Or how about the death of Jansen Van Vuuren; A fire Marshall that crossed the track at an F1 race? Who was at fault? The driver for hitting him, or Vuuren for being on the track? 

          No matter how you cut it, no matter who was driving, unless Stewart flat out says that he intentionally hit Ward, there is absolutely no grounds for criminal charges. Simply put, Ward violated safety protocol and went on foot into the track. He was somewhere where he was not meant to be, he was hit by a car, and tragically was killed as a result. I think we all agree that if you walk onto a race track you are likely to be hit by a race car. 

          Who hit him is irrelevant, it was a racing incident, and there is no grounds for criminal charges; and like it or not, the liability waivers and Wards behavior will protect Stewart from a civil suit. 

          Chayil
          • 4 Months Ago
          @BipDBo

          Ok, if what you say is true, than racing today is legally screwed. An errant pass that wrecks another car could bring about a judgement of reckless or careless driving. We are talking about a sporting event, not driving on public roads. The track was dimly lit in that area and Ward was wearing a black driver's suit. It has already been stated by sprint car drivers that steering happens only by kicking the rear out with throttle. The first sprint car barely missed Ward and since Tony was only slightly behind, he would have plowed directly into Ward had he not tried to steer away.

        Sidney
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Silver

        None, the only reason it is news is because of who was involved

          FLOWER
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Sidney

          Are you serious.  It was tragic for a young man to lose his life over some over zealous arrogant driver who tried to showboat.  It doesn't matter if it was a unknown or not.  It also was'nt an accident, an accident is something that couldn't have been avoided.

        19nomad56
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Silver

        Isn't that always the case though with the media? Any "celebrity" involved in anything and it becomes headline news.

        brandon
        • 4 Months Ago *Edited*
        @Silver

        Absolutely none. This BS is just AB trolling for clicks. It's both sad and sick. This article may be my last on this stupid site and their false "outrage" click-baiting. 

          gtv4rudy
          • 4 Months Ago *Edited*
          @brandon

          Judge with your head, not your heart. Many Tony Stewart fans are blinded or in denial of this horrible story and in the end Stewart was responsible to some degree.

          1454
          • 4 Months Ago
          @brandon

          I am 100% judging with my "head" and not my "heart". I'm not a neckcar fan, nor a Stewart fan. In the end, *Ward* was responsible, if you don't get out of your stupid car, you don't get hit. Plain and simple. 

      Tweaker
      • 4 Months Ago

      Click bait. 


      In slow motion, Ward can be seen hanging from Stewarts wing before falling in front of the rear tire.

        scott3
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Tweaker

        I work in the racing industry and I have heard that the kid may have had the wing clip him in the head and  fell under the tire. This makes a lot of sense as Tony clearly tried to steer to the right to swing the rear to the left to miss him. Even a drive that was a friend of Ward stated this to the media who does not like to clear up controversy.

        It was listed as blunt force trauma. It may have been to the head as the wing is low and even with a helmet a wing hitting you at 25-30 MPH as the police estimated will kill you.

        The wings are low and they do stick or farther than the front wheels. The kid may have missed it with a helmet on as you can not see up well.


          Diana
          • 4 Months Ago
          @scott3

          Stewart should have been driving on the "low" end of the track. Inside.

        bK
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Tweaker

        Clearly! but the media looooooves to make the truth as gray as possible to stir up the story. smh

        michael
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Tweaker

        Ward acted unwisely.  He did not deserve to died for it.

          Ron
          • 4 Months Ago
          @michael

          No he didn't deserve to die, but it was his fault that he did. 

      scott3
      • 4 Months Ago

      I am tired of all this trash media and misleading web headlines just as we have here. Is this the Autoblog Inquirer? 

      As for the crash. the first incident was just dirt track racing and this happens every week. Yes Tony did not have to squeeze him but Ward was not hardly even half way up on Tony and could have just as easy backed off till the next lap for a better run. That is the risk to being outside.

      As for when he got hit. Everyone agrees he should have not charged the racing  line out of the car. I have had fears of this happing in other series as much as here. Second Tony cut the wheels to the right and gunned the car as that is the only way you can turn a sprint car. The front wheels will not grip the smoothed clay and turn like a normal car. The throttle clearly moved the cars rear to the left away from the kid. Anyone who has spent time at a dirt track will agree. The bottom line is Tony did not hit him on purpose and if he was waiting to dust him he turned the wheels the wrong way.

      The kid just was pissed and walked into the rear tire. I have even heard but unconfirmed that his head was hit by the wing that sticks out before the tire got him. This may have been some of the blunt force injury.

      There is even a friend of Ward that was behind Tony who spoke out he other night saying there was nothing more Tony could have done to miss him and made all the right moves to miss him.

      This was just a racing accident and the kid screwed up and paid the price, sad but true.

      The fact is you take a risk every time you get up out of bed or enter a race track. You get out of the car on track you increase the risks 100 fold.

      FYI I am not a Tony fan. But I respect his skills.


      This will end up with no charges and with the father doing a civil law suit just because he is all messed up right now and a scum bag lawyer will tie into him. It will be settled out of court as it will be cheaper than winning the case. The lawyer will walk away with a big sum and the father unless he gets help will let this eat him up till it takes him too.

      How many people have been run over in rally racing. How many race cars have gone into the stands and killed someone? We had one last year that did after a retaliatory move by the driver on another driver.

      Even Richard Petty lost control of a drag car in 1965 and killed a 8 year old boy and injured 7 people.

      These are all racing accidents and even with the one film we have it is clear in 34-36 seconds the cars wheels were turned to the right and the rear of the car was swung to the left in an attempt to clear him. If Tony had turned to the left and hit the gas it would have been clear he was trying to dust him as the rear would have swung to the right. You steer with the throttle here not the steering wheel as much.



        Richard
        • 4 Months Ago
        @scott3

        Well said. I could not agree more.

        Another point: many are questioning how the other cars were able to avoid Ward. My answer to those is that Ward did not have any beef with those other drivers. He let them pass (and still almost got hit). My guess is that Ward was either trying to get Tony to stop or maybe get close enough to hit Tony's car with his hand. I think Ward either did not see or misjudged the wing on Tony's car.  If Tony went lower on the track, my guess Ward would have followed him with maybe the same outcome.

        This is a tragic event; one that could have been prevented. But not by Tony.

        I only hope that others will learn from Ward's mistake.

      Newman
      • 4 Months Ago *Edited*

      I have been to tracks where drivers have died , seen what goes on , and it is never  good for anyone . Even the spectators .

      Rick Mason
      • 4 Months Ago
      I don't know whether Stewart should be charged because we have not been given enough information about what happened to form any intelligent opinions. I will tell you this, though, I don't think Stewart is going to survive this with his NASCAR career in tact. Even if he isn't charged with a crime, you can be damned sure the Ward family is going to sue the punk for everything he's worth! Yeah, I called him a punk because he is. I've been a NASCAR junkie since 1960, and of all the sports 'bad boys', Stewart is my choice for the worst of them all, with Kyle Busch running a close second.  NASCAR's popularity is dying, you can see it in the only partially filled grandstands at the tracks, and poor TV ratings. I believe drivers like Stewart and Busch are partly to blame for this. That and the fact that the cars no longer even look like the vehicles they are supposed to represent. The catch-phrase that was once NASCAR's claim to fame, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!" no longer applies. Next time a race is being paced by an Impalla,look at one of the 'Impallas' following it and you'll see what I mean. The only thing that looks remotely like the real car is the head and tail light 'decals'. These are no longer anything like a 'stock' car, and have made the sport really boring and mundane.
        americanmusclen55
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Rick Mason

        We the public don't get all the information, but I bet they have something we don't know about. If they didn't they would not be milking it.

      81waldron
      • 4 Months Ago

      "Should Tony Stewart be charged with Kevin Ward Jr's death?"

      I don't know...and to be quite frank, nobody on autoblog knows either.  I haven't seen all the evidence nor has any other person commenting on here.  To render a verdict without having all the evidence is the very definition of jumping to conclusions.  Just reading the responses makes me eternally grateful that I've never had to face a jury "of my peers".  The thought makes me tremble sometimes.

      I will say this however: Just because Kevin Ward Jr. got out of his car doesn't instantly absolve Stewart from any and all culpability.  I'm sorry, but that's not going to fly in court as a reasonable defense.  A lot of people here are coming to that exact conclusion, which, to me, shows that these people have a very, very tenuous grasp on how the law works.  


        Ron
        • 4 Months Ago
        @81waldron
        Well.. no not really. 
        Racing is dangerous, and the teams and drivers all sign liability waivers as a result. Now.. unless the driver that hit the other comes out and says "I hit him on purpose" there will be no charges filed, as it was a accident at a race track during a sporting event; in which the drivers all knew and acknowledged that death was possible.
        Ward, who went on to the race track, violated safety protocols, and was somewhere he shouldn't be. I think even an idiot would agree that if you walk onto a race track there is a good chance you are going to get hit by a race car, and that really is it. 
        There is absolutely no grounds or case law to support pressing criminal charges against the actors in a sporting accident. Was Marlin charged for killed Dale Earnhardt? No.
        So admission of malicious intent, there is no grounds for charges, and I would say sir, that it is you that have a very tenuous grasp on how the law works. 
      AzureStarline
      • 4 Months Ago

      the idiot got out of his car and stepped toward moving vehicles. dumb. if you're going to have bro-beef, do it off the track.

        Diana
        • 4 Months Ago
        @AzureStarline

        What about when Tony himself as done the exact same thing. Getting out of his car to throw his helmet at other drivers. That is on tape also. Anyone getting out of their car is CRAZY. Literally!!

        M5_4_life
        • 4 Months Ago
        @AzureStarline

        Exactly, which is why I voted NO! Drivers bump into each all the time, intentionally or not but majority of them have the good sense to duke it out on off the tracks. He was basically asking for it and he got it, he was the hothead! No sympathy from me!

      Alfonso T. Alvarez
      • 4 Months Ago

      My God Autoblog - this is seriously a new low for this site ...


      Have you no shame???

      John Triolo
      • 4 Months Ago

      I feel bad for the Ward family but honestly, he got out of his car on a poorly lit track. I'm not saying he was asking for it but he clearly wasn't thinking straight.  There would have been plenty of time after the race to "debate" initial hit that brought out the caution but instead Ward got out of his car and seeked out Stewart - what was he thinking???  

      It is sad and I have to imagine that Stewart feels terrible at what happened but he should not be charged with second-degree murder.

      Tariff The Imports
      • 4 Months Ago

      Good. Throw the book at Hot Head Tony! He blocks, but whines when other block him ( or runs them off the track - Matt Kenseth @ Daytona ). He throw temper tantrums, helmets, fists, the finger and flies off the handle. He's a menace and deserves to be reprimanded. 

        SDSuperFan
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Tariff The Imports

        You are the one who needs to be reprimanded, based on your logic you are condemning someone based on nothing from the situation at hand. You are right on all accounts except, TONY would never intentionally go after someone in a car. TONY'S actions you speak of ALWAYS occur outside of his RACECAR

      seansverige
      • 4 Months Ago

      "if Stewart's actions – purposeful or accidental – prove to be outside the realm of normal competition"

      IF?? Even if the field of competition is exception to the wider constraints of society, there ARE still constraints that participating professionals should recognise & adhere to. Rugby and football (soccer) players have been prosecuted and even jailed for actions that cross that line: even ritualised warfare has rules, else it wouldn't be ritualised...

      This is not like Edwards & Rossi unavoidably hitting Simoncelli, or other incidents where it was simply not humanly possible to react in time: Stewart completed another lap in the meantime and even if the exact nature of Wards response could not be anticipated, surely the fact of it wasn't entirely unexpected? Especially by a successful, experienced 'professional' driver.

      Motorsport IS dangerous, and sometimes the behaviour of both participants and spectators serve to make it more so, but IF the circuit was so poorly lit such that Stewart couldn't have seen Ward, that's a disgrace and the circuit owners & governing body should be liable too. Hopefully it will be effective and proportional, but this incident must result in some change. Improving lighting would surely serve not only safety but the spectacle as well? The issue of visibility has been mentioned: with tools such as finite stress analysis software, are we seriously expected to believe that 45 years after Apollo 11 some kind of asymmetric roll cage that addresses this issue is beyond us?

      If this happened in Europe it would be - quite rightly - a huge deal (whoever was involved) that would most likely trigger a debate about the future of motorsport in general at a national level (which in turn would probably result in some kneejerk, arbitrary changes that did more to improve perceived rather actual safety, but that's another story...)

      Leaving aside the questionable decision to put this to a poll (stay classy, Autoblog) nowhere does it mention who or if there will be anything other than a police inquiry and by whom (NASCAR?); you know the kind of things one those whatd'ycallem... journalists?... might be bothered to check out or highlight. Though I'll still check in for Press Release Journalism and event pics, this is exactly why I find myself bothering less & less with Autoblog of late, and need to remember to stop even looking at this half-baked nonsense to avoid future disappointment.

      Daniel Croft
      • 4 Months Ago

      I said that he should be charged but that doesn't mean that I think he should be found guilty. The legal process should be followed since someone has died in an environment and a manner where it isn't expected under not so clear circumstances. Regardless of the prosecution of criminal charges, there'll more than likely be civil charges brought by the family.

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