Quick, digital-only thoughts from In the Wake of the News columnistDavid Haugh.
For openers ...
Nobody will ever know what Tony Stewart was thinking Saturday night as his car approached Kevin Ward Jr. on the dirt track in Canandaigua, N.Y.
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Nobody will ever know if Stewart tried to intimidate or avoid Ward, who was on the track gesturing after Stewart’s car bumped Ward’s one lap earlier badly enough for it to collide into the wall.
Mystery always will surround the tragedy after the 20-year-old Ward was pronounced dead at a local hospital 45 minutes after Stewart’s car struck him at a speed between 30 and 35 miles per hour, according to Ontario County police.
With a Cup race Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y., much focus quickly and inappropriately shifted to whether Stewart would get behind the wheel. Others wondered if Stewart eventually will go behind bars. A young man died after being hit by a car Stewart drove. Ward’s family and his memory deserve answers to tough questions. Stewart, perhaps NASCAR’s most temperamental driver, could struggle earning the benefit of the doubt publicly if it comes down to interpreting his emotions.
He released a carefully worded statement that expressed shock and grief for Ward and his family yet steered clear of addressing his state of mind at the time of the accident. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero announced at a news conference Sunday there would be no criminal charges filed “at this time’’ but the investigation was ongoing. Stewart, who wisely opted not to drive Sunday, is said to be cooperating.
“At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual,’’ Povero said.
Have police officials interviewed Tyler Graves, a sprint-car racer and friend of Ward’s who says he saw everything from his seat in the Turn 1 grandstands? Graves shared a chilling account of what happened with Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News.
“I know Tony could see him. I know how you can see out of these cars. When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle,’’ Graves told TSN. “When you hit a throttle on a sprint car, the car sets sideways. It set sideways, the right rear tire hit Kevin, Kevin was sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two and then it threw him about 50 yards.”
When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle.
That sentence keeps popping up in my head. Watching the video on YouTube appears to support what Graves suggested, though it remains open to interpretation. It isn’t clear-cut enough either way for officials to conclude anything about charges without hearing from more witnesses, especially Graves. Authorities must exhaust every resource available. Keep digging.
In the meantime, NASCAR and every racing organization immediately needs to impose rules that heavily punish drivers who walk onto the track after accidents as a deterrent so a tragic death like this never happens again.
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