Updated: 08/11/2014 12:25 PM
Created: 08/10/2014 2:19 AM WHEC.com
The Ontario County Sheriff's Office says NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Junior after that driver walked onto the track during a race in Canandaigua.
Deputies say Ward lost control of his vehicle during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park around 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Ward spun out and hit the retaining wall near turn two. He then exited his vehicle and went onto the race track, according to deputies.
“He’s getting out of his car! They’re not stopped yet! They’re not stopped yet! He’s getting out of his car,” said Mike McDonald.
McDonald witnessed the crash. He says the caution flag was out, but drivers were still racing.
Deputies say Ward gestured at two cars on the track. The first car swerved out of Ward's way and avoided him. The second car, driven by Stewart, struck Ward on the track.
“People were upset and crying. There were a lot of kids around,” said McDonald.
Ward was transported to F. F. Thompson Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m.
The director of Canandaigua Motorsports Park says the crash was a tragic accident. He saw the whole thing and says the pain is unbearable. He says he spent much of last night with Tony Stewart, and says Stewart is overcome with grief about what happened. The director says Stewart didn’t see Ward before he hit him on the track. He says the big mistake came from Ward for going onto the track while the other drivers were still racing.
McDonald says the crash was an accident. He’s been inside sprint cars before, and it’s tough to see out.
“You can’t see out of a sprint car. Anyone that’s even been in a sprint car knows that you can’t see out the right hand side very well because they’re made to go left,” said McDonald.
Deputies say the investigation is ongoing, but there’s nothing to support a criminal charge at this time. Sheriff Povero says Stewart has cooperated with deputies and has not been charged. He says drivers were going about 35 mph at the time of the crash, and many sprint cars almost hit Ward after he exited his car.
“We’re looking for any information, any relevant evidence, that will help us come to a final determination to why this happened,” said Sheriff Povero.
Deputies are asking anyone with video of the crash to call them at (585)394-4560. Sheriff Povero says he also wants to speak with an expert on dirt track racing. He says the fact that the track was muddy and poorly lit needs to be considered in the investigation.
“Certainly that is a dimly lit part of the track. That is something that’s looked at, as well as clothing and other conditions that would certainly impact visibility in that area,” said Sheriff Povero.
Tony Stewart has released a statement saying he will not race on Sunday in Watkins Glen. His manager released a statement last night that said Ward's death a "tragic accident."
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends," the spokesman said in a statement. "We're still attempting to sort through all the details."
Ward’s family has released the following statement:
“The family appreciates all the prayers and support and would like time to grieve at this point.”
Saturday’s crash was not the first time Stewart has been involved in an accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Last July, Stewart caused a 15 car crash that resulted in a serious back injury to a 19-year-old female driver. Stewart took full responsibility for the 2013 crash.