Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tony Stewart & Possible Criminal Charges

As the investigation enters its fourth week, it remains an open question whether NASCAR race car driver Tony Stewart face criminal charges in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.

During a NASCAR race on August 9 in upstate New York, Ward’s car was spun out by Stewart. Furious, Ward unbuckled, climbed out of his car and walked onto the track to confront Stewart, at which point he was struck by Stewart’s car.

The District Attorney continues to investigate the death of Ward looking into whether Stewart, at the very least, intentionally revved his throttle as he passed Ward to put a scare in him. By hitting the throttle, the car fishtailed to the right into Ward, killing him. If the conclusion is that Stewart was looking to scare Ward, he could be criminally responsible for the death of Ward.

That would likely mean a second degree manslaughter charge. Also called involuntary manslaughter, this occurs when a person “recklessly” causes the death of another person. Reckless acts are generally deemed less serious or blameworthy than intentional acts. A conviction carries a minimum sentence 1 to 3 years in prison and a maximum period of incarceration of 5 to 15 years.

I wrote about the incident days for TSN here.

The DA is going to need strong evidence to be satisfied that criminal charges against Stewart are warranted. The track was dark, Ward was dressed in black and he put himself into an inherently dangerous situation by walking into oncoming traffic.

Bearing these circumstances in mind, it would be a surprise to see the DA pursue criminal charges against Stewart unless they believe the evidence, in its totality, suggests that Stewart not only failed to avoid Ward, but was reckless in the way he approached him. That reckless element is key and is your threshold for criminal charges.

I’m not making a declaration as to whether I believe Stewart intended to hit Ward or, at the very least, tried to scare him by getting close to him. I can’t crawl into Stewart’s mind to assess intent. And frankly, neither can the DA. So the evidence as a whole will need to be assessed to make a reasonable conclusion as to what likely happened that night.

And absent compelling evidence to the contrary, Stewart may get the benefit of the doubt and walk. 

While I have not had the benefit of reviewing the results of the investigation to date, my sense is that Stewart isn't likely to face charges. Of course, that could change depending on what the DA uncovers. Still, I would be surprised to see charges materialize.

That being said, it seems likely that Stewart will face a wrongful death civil lawsuit from Ward's family. If a person is killed as a result of the negligence or misconduct of another person, the surviving members may sue for "wrongful death". So long as the Ward family believes that Stewart is responsible, a lawsuit is inevitable.

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