Friday, October 31, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

As probe into racer’s death begins, Stewart steps away from the track

By
From page B1 | August 11, 2014 |

Tony Stewart Crash Auto Racing

In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — The collision was as common as any in racing. Kevin Ward Jr.’s car spun twice like a top, wheels hugging the wall, before it plopped backward on the dimly lit dirt track.

In a sport steeped with bravado, what happened next was another familiar, but treacherous, move: Wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, the 20-year-old Ward unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.

Ward, a relative unknown compared to NASCAR’s noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart’s direction. As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.

Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward’s body was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.

Ward was killed. Stewart, considered one of the most proficient drivers in racing, dropped out of Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, hours after Saturday’s crash. And the sport was left reeling from a tragedy that could have ripple effects from the biggest stock car series down to weeknight dirt track racing.

“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said in a statement.

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. They described him as “visibly shaken” after the crash and said he was cooperative.

On Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators also don’t have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent. But he also said that criminal charges have not been ruled out.

The crash raised several questions: Will Ward’s death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations? Did Stewart try and send his own message by buzzing Ward, the young driver, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesutsuit on a dark track?

The only one who may have that answer is Stewart.

David S. Weinsten, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice, said it would be difficult to prove criminal intent.

“I think even with the video, it’s going to be tough to prove that this was more than just an accident and that it was even culpable negligence, which he should’ve known or should’ve believed that by getting close to this guy, that it was going to cause the accident,” he said.

The sheriff renewed a plea for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash. Investigators were reconstructing the accident and looking into everything from the dim lighting on a portion of the track to how muddy it was, as well as if Ward’s dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

Driver Cory Sparks, a friend of Ward’s, was a few cars back when Ward was killed.

“The timing was unsafe,” he said of Ward’s decision to get out of his car to confront Stewart. “When your adrenaline is going, and you’re taken out of a race, your emotions flare.”

It’s often just a part of racing. Drivers from mild-mannered Jeff Gordon to ladylike Danica Patrick have erupted in anger on the track at another driver. The confrontations are part of the sport’s allure: Fans love it and cheer wildly from the stands. Stewart, who has a reputation for being a hothead nicknamed “Smoke,” once wound up like a pitcher and tossed his helmet like a fastball at Matt Kenseth’s windshield.

“I’ve seen it many times in NASCAR, where a driver will confront the other one, and a lot of times they’ll try to speed past them. And that’s what it appeared to me as if what Tony Stewart did, he tried to speed past Ward,” witness Michael Messerly said. “And the next thing I could see, I didn’t see Ward any more. It just seemed like he was suddenly gone.”

The crash also raised questions about whether Stewart will continue with his hobby of racing on small tracks on the side of the big-money NASCAR races. He has long defended his participation in racing on tracks like the one where the crash happened, even as accidents and injury have put his day job in NASCAR at risk.

Saturday’s crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season and sidelined him during NASCAR’s important Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Stewart only returned to sprint track racing last month.

The crash site is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.

“Everybody has hobbies,” he said last month, adding that “there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.”

Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, said Stewart felt strongly he should not race after the wreck. Regan Smith replaced him in his car.

“We’re racing with heavy hearts,” Smith said.

 

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Dad finds passion creating set pieces for son’s shows

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Real estate agent pens, produces movie

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
 
Candy from sky highlights North Texas Street event

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Vintage Fair on tap at McBride Senior Center

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Judge approves Stockton’s bankruptcy plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
California eyes $500 billion in water spending

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Marine wants new charges in Iraq war crime tossed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

 
Roseville officer accused of criminal threats

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Poll: Democrats leading in all statewide races

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Man charged with murder in SWAT officer shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Teen arrested in threat at Sacramento school

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Police make arrest in slaying of Oakland mom

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Retrial in assault case over stray cat feeding

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Missing California hunter roasted bugs, lizards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Pilot identified in California jet crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Lawsuit: Surgical gowns let diseases pass through

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Fearing Ebola? Doctors say get a flu shot

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Questions, answers about California’s Ebola policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Relatives suspected poisoning in family’s deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Pair convicted in secret $1.6 M Navy silencer deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Guard troops sent to site of Hawaii lava flow

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Terminally ill woman may postpone taking her life

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Man’s own dog helps police bust him on drug charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Vatican admits Sistine Chapel frescoes ‘whitened’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Israel closes Jerusalem holy site after shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Fearing uprising, Iraq militants hunt ex-police

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Death penalty sought for trooper ambush suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

Man’s prosecution unwarranted

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

 
Are we safe now?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 15 Comments

 
Editorial Cartoons: Oct. 31, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Brown’s moderate stance resonates with voters

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11

 
 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

My husband sends texts filled with ‘dirty talk’ to an old flame

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 31, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Week in preview Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
Jorge Garcia makes the most of ‘Hawaii Five-O’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Monica Potter wants to save her show ‘Parenthood’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Review: Jake Gyllenhaal, tightly coiled and creepy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Exhibit on Paul Simon’s life to debut at Rock Hall

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
PBS touts 2013-14 ratings growth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Reality TV show ‘Big Brother’ to debut in China

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
‘The View’ now under ABC News as further revamping

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Review: ‘Sleep’ a decidedly average psych thriller

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Entertainment calendar Oct. 31, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B4

Winter’s wife has blues listening to his new album

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
.

Sports

 
 
Benicia fends off Vanden, 35-21

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B7 | Gallery

New dynasty: Giants capture 3rd title in 5 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Bye week helps 49ers Vernon Davis’ recovery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Sonoma Raceway to host IndyCar Series finale in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Warriors exercise options on Barnes, Ezeli

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Mack making impact for Raiders even without sacks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
This date in sports history for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Prep football capsules: Week 9

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B10

.

Business

Not so sweet: Chocolate prices are set to rise

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11 | Gallery

 
Apple CEO publicly acknowledges that he’s gay

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment | Gallery

FTC accuses Gerber of false claim on baby formula

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Obituaries

Oscar Lee Vezeau

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
Robert Louis Wright

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9