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Stewart Slapped With ‘Wrongful Death’ Civil Suit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 8 2015
Tony Stewart's is facing more legal problems. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Tony Stewart is facing more legal problems. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

NASCAR champion Tony Stewart is the lone defendant named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Friday by the family of Kevin Ward Jr., who was struck and killed by Stewart’s Sprint Car during a race on Aug. 9, 2014, in Upstate New York.

The suit was filed on behalf of Ward’s parents, Kevin Ward Sr. and Pamela Ward, in the 5th Judicial District for the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Lowville. The Wards reside in Port Leyden, N.Y., a rural community south of Lowville in Central New York.

According to a release issued by the Lanier Law Firm, which is representing Ward’s parents, the suit states that Stewart “wrongfully caused Mr. Ward’s death by acting with wanton, reckless and malicious intent and negligence.”

Ward Jr., 20, died as a result of blunt force trauma after being struck by Stewart’s car during a Saturday night Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, located about 50 miles northwest of Watkins Glen International. Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and co-owner of Stewart Haas-Racing, was scheduled to compete in last year’s Cheez-It 355 Cup race on the famed WGI road-course the following afternoon.

Stewart was indulging his passion for dirt-track racing when he entered his No. 14 Sprint Car into the weekly program in Canandaigua. The night went awry when contact from Stewart’s winged, open-wheel car sent Ward’s Sprinter spinning into a wall. Ward exited the cockpit of his disabled car and walked onto the track in his black driver’s uniform, angrily gesturing at Stewart’s car. A wheel from Stewart’s car struck Ward, launching him into the air as his parents watched in horror.

Stewart claims the contact was accidental; the Wards maintain it was intentional and avoidable given Stewart’s skill-set.

“Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day,” the Wards said in a statement. “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.”

The suit does not state what damages are being sought by the Ward family. According to the release, neither the Wards nor their attorneys will comment further.

A native of Rome, N.Y., and resident of Port Leyden, Ward was the Empire Super Sprints Rookie of the Year in 2012. His dream was to eventually compete in the World of Outlaws, the nation’s top series for lightweight, high-horsepower Sprint Cars. Instead, family and friends gathered for Ward’s funeral on Aug. 14 at South Lewis Senior High School, from which Ward was graduated in 2012.

“Unfortunately, I have a feeling it’s going to get brought up a lot this week,” Stewart said Wednesday during a media session at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where he hosted a charity event. Stewart is back at WGI this weekend for NASCAR’s second and final Cup road-course event of the season.

Stewart subsequently cooperated with Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s deputies investigating the Ward fatality. An Ontario County grand jury did not indict Stewart for his involvement in the accident, determining in September there was insufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges.

Stewart, 44, is a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing with businessman Gene Haas. Both SHR and NASCAR declined comment on the lawsuit Friday.

Stewart said at TMS Wednesday he would return to Watkins Glen – where his five victories is a Cup record – a different man than the one who last competed there in the summer of 2012.

“I don’t think I will ever be the same from what happened the last two years,” said Stewart, referencing a pair of life-altering incidents. “I don’t know how you could be (the same). I don’t know how anybody ever could be back to exactly the way they were. But not being back exactly the same as I was doesn’t mean that I’ve become better in some ways; I think there’s always positives that come out of every scenario.”

In 2013, Stewart was sidelined when the Cup tour rolled into New York’s Finger Lakes Region after breaking his right leg in a Sprint Car accident on Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. That mishap was followed by last summer’s tragedy in Canandaigua.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 8 2015
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