NEW YORK (WFAN) — A prominent criminal defense attorney says there’s “no scenario where Tony Stewart is getting charged with a crime” after the three-time NASCAR champion hit and killed a fellow driver during a dirt-track race in upstate New York.
A video uploaded to YouTube following Saturday night’s race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park showed Kevin Ward Jr. getting out of his car to confront Stewart after being spun out on the track. After a near miss by another driver, he was struck and flung by the rear of Stewart’s car.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero said the 20-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Though Povero said there were no criminal charges pending, some have speculated that Stewart, who has a reputation for being hot-headed, might have been reckless in driving past Ward.
“Is there a recorded radio interaction where he’s saying, ‘I’m gonna scare this kid’ or ‘I’m gonna do something’? That’s what you need,” lawyer Joe Tacopina told WFAN’s Marc Malusis and Sid Rosenberg on Monday. “Short of that, there’s no scenario where you’re going to be able to prove that he tried to scare this kid or hurt this kid or do anything.
“He’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing: he’s driving a car in circles on a track, going fast.”
Authorities planned to focus their investigation on the conditions of the track and the lighting, according to The Associated Press. Ward was wearing a black firesuit and helmet when he approached Stewart’s car.
“The guy put himself in harm’s way,” said Tacopina, who led Alex Rodriguez’s fight against Major League Baseball. “Unfortunately, it’s his fault that he’s dead. I’ll say it. I mean, it’s sad to say, it’s a tragedy, but you don’t run out on a track. … You just don’t do it.”
He added during a heated exchange with Malusis: “You cannot say that Tony Stewart is responsible for this guy’s death in any way, shape or form. It is wrong.”
Tacopina, arguing that calling Stewart “reckless” is the same as accusing him of a crime, said some have taken the conversation too far.
“To speculate that Tony Stewart is a murderer, a criminal, is pretty scary,” he said.
Stewart pulled out of Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen and reportedly won’t compete this coming weekend.
“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. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
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