It took almost a year, but on Friday, the family of Kevin Ward Jr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart for striking Ward with his car last August 9 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
The Empire Super Sprints race had been designated under caution when Ward, later found to have marijuana in his system, exited his car and ran toward Stewart. The lawsuit argues that Stewart accelerated as he passed Stewart, causing the car to slide and its right rear tire to strike Ward and hurl him 25 feet. Ward was declared dead 45 minutes later.
A grand jury convened for the case viewed two videos of the incident; Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo concluded Stewart had shown “no aberrational driving.” After the grand jury refused to issue charges last September, Stewart said, “I just know in my heart that it was 100 percent an accident.”
The family filed the suit in Lewis County Supreme Court, and did not delineate the damages sought. The lawsuit charged, “Stewart could have easily acted reasonably and with prudence to avoid striking Ward, just as all other drivers had done as they passed Ward during the yellow caution flag. Stewart acted with disregard for Ward’s life and safety by driving his vehicle in a manner that would terrorize Ward and thereafter strike, severely injure and kill Ward.”
Ward’s parents issued a statement, reading: “Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day. Our hope is that this lawsuit will hold Tony Stewart responsible for killing our son and show him there are real consequences when someone recklessly takes another person’s life.”
After the incident, Wendi Ward, Ward’s aunt, said bitterly:
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. 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?
Ward’s father added, “Tony Stewart was the best damn driver by far on the track that night. Why he had to go up as high as he did and hog my son, there’s no reason for it…. The one person that knows what happened that night is possibly facing 10 years in prison. Is he going to say what he done?”
Since the incident, Stewart has not competed in a sprint-car event, and has not won a race of any kind.
Mark Lanier, the attorney representing the Ward family, said, “A jury needs to see the video, learn of Tony Stewart’s past, and give the verdict that delivers justice. Tony’s actions took the life of a marvelous young, talented man.”
James Voyles, who has represented Mike Tyson, Bob Knight, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, represents Stewart.