Criminal Charges Appear Unlikely For NASCAR's Tony Stewart

Funeral services were held Thursday for Kevin Ward Jr., the driver killed on the track after being hit by former NASCAR champion Tony Stewart. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann attended the service; he speaks with Robert Siegel about the funeral and possible investigations into the incident.

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Hundreds of people gathered in the small town of Turin in upstate New York today to remember Kevin Ward Jr. He was the 20-year-old racecar driver who was killed last Saturday when he was hit by the car of top NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart.

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann was at the service and he joins us now to talk about this racing accident and the investigation that's followed it. And first, the service today - tell us how Kevin Ward's family and how the community are doing?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Well, it's devastating, Robert. As you can imagine, this is a very rural area and Kevin Ward was kind of a local hero - a guy who'd won a lot of races. And the service was held at the high school where he graduated just two years ago. The audience was packed with family and friends. And his sister Kayla Herring spoke with me just before going in. And she pointed to a ribbon she was wearing on her dress with Kevin Ward's racing colors.


KAYLA HERRING: And I just want everybody to know the reason for our orange and white ribbons is to show how bright those colors are. And even against black, orange and white does shine through.

MANN: Could you just say a word about how the family's doing today?

HERRING: It's rough, but we will get through together.

SIEGEL: Brian, remind us of what happened last Saturday - of how Kevin Ward die.

MANN: He was racing in a sprint car race in upstate New York here - a kind of lightweight superfast car on a dirt track. And he bumped cars with Tony Stewart and spun out at the edge of the track. Ward actually climbed out of his car and charged out onto the track pointing angrily at Stewart. One car missed him, but then Stewart's car struck him pretty much head on.

SIEGEL: Now Ward was killed instantly by Stewart's car, and an investigation is now under way into the accident. What do we know about that?

MANN: Well, the sheriff of Ontario Country, where that race took place, says he won't have an official report for about two weeks. Philip Povero, the sheriff, has said repeatedly that so far he hasn't seen anything here that suggests that charges against Tony Stewart are likely. Stewart's been interviewed a couple of times by police and they're still working on a reconstruction of the accident scene. But again, Robert, everything that I'm hearing so far suggests that it's unlikely that Stewart will face any criminal charges in the wake of this.

SIEGEL: Now I gather this isn't uncommon for racecar drivers to charge out onto the track, especially when a yellow caution flag is out. Is that right?

MANN: Yeah, it is right. And I think this is really taken people by surprise. It's kind of a badge of honor in this sport for these athletes to be passionate, to be full throttle. But there is now talk in motorsports about tightening up the rules surrounding this behavior. Two tracks here in New York State have already announced that drivers who leave their vehicles during yellow flag periods will be penalized and maybe even suspended.

SIEGEL: Brian, Kevin Ward was a part-time racecar driver. He was a painter, a mechanic - talk a little bit about this amateur or semipro car racing culture.

MANN: Yeah, this is a sport that a lot of people don't know about. It's huge here in rural New York and Pennsylvania and some other northeastern states. A lot of guys around here - just blue-collar guys - they own and run a racecar on the smaller tracks on the weekends. It's sort of a family hobby.

Sometimes two or three businesses will go in together to sponsor a racer like Kevin Ward. And he'd been on various tracks from the age of 4 when he started racing go karts, and people are loyal to these hometown racers.

At today's funeral, a lot of the people were wearing Ward's colors. And folks say they plan to be back out at the track racing this weekend.

SIEGEL: OK, that's Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio. Brian, thanks.

MANN: Thanks, Robert.

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