Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward Jr.'s aunt read a prepared letter to USA Today Sports today addressing the incident that killed her nephew last month and the criminal investigation that released fellow driver Tony Stewart of guilt.
Stewart, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, hit and killed Ward after an on-track altercation sent the 20-year-old Ward into the wall, leaving him out of the race. According to witnesses and video recorded from the stands, Ward exited his car, throwing his hands up in frustration, and walked toward Stewart as he came back around the track under the caution flag. Stewart's car came into contact with Ward, who was sucked under Stewart's car before being thrown several meters back toward the wall. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.
After the crash, a toxicology report indicated that Ward was driving with enough marijuana in his system to possibly impair judgement. Wendi Ward vented her and the family's frustration with the investigation into the crash in an open letter published by USA Today Sports. In the letter, she asks why the presence of marijuana in Ward's system would affect the outcome of the investigation.
"Why was the toxicology report even an issue? Seems to me the wrong man was on trial," Wendi told USA Today. "Tell me why Tony Stewart was not taken in for testing, why his car wasn't impounded. Tell me how a man the size of Kevin can make a sprint car turn to the right on impact."
She cites the fact that marijuana can remain in a person's blood stream for days or weeks after taking the drug, and that Ward spent the 10 hours before the race with his family, leaving little time for him to become intoxicated. Marijuana's affects on drivers is still poorly understood. The drug's affects usually dissipate quickly, and its affects on the user depends on the strain of plant and frequency of use. She says the multiple excuses given for Stewart's actions before and during the crash ring hollow in the face of the video.
"Tell me how a lap before (the incident) everything was fine, but the following lap was poor lighting. Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means. Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?"
Stewart skipped three races before returning to the track two weeks after fatally hitting driver Ward. Fans and sports commenters were still torn on how to judge Stewart's involvement in the crash. Six weeks after striking Ward, Stewart was cleared of all criminal charges by a grand jury. The Ward family is pursuing a civil suit against the driver.
"Our son got out of his car during caution when the race was suspended. All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car toward him, causing the tragedy," the family said last week. "The focus should be on the actions of Mr.Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin."
While the family is angry over the death of the young driver, Wendi Ward asked that the public remember her nephew the way his family knew him - as a passionate young man in love with the sport of racing.
"Kevin Ward Jr. was an amazing person. His life was wrapped around family, friends and racing, which he started at age 4. Just a small-town boy having fun until the days turned into years, and it then became his passion and life," Wendi told Today. "The trophies, plaques and pictures that fill his home, garage and workshop show his hard work and dedication to racing – his love for the sport."