While just about everybody else was throwing in their two cents about the Kevin Ward, Jr. tragedy and the ensuing grand jury case against Tony Stewart, I chose to hold back, sensing that adding my opinion to the fray wasn’t helping the Wards any in their healing process.
Ward’s aunt Wendi Ward’s open letter in USA Today on Sunday changed my perspective. As frustrated as I had been about how the case had been handled, the letter gave me some insight into how much more difficult it has been for the Ward family.
There are videos all over the Internet documenting Ward’s death; so in a way, it feels like everyone has watched this tragedy. But in another sense, it’s like no one has really watched it.
The case all comes down to one moment, really: why did Tony Stewart jump hard on the accelerator right before he hit Ward? The Ward family may never get the answer they’re looking for, but Ontario (N.Y.) County District Attorney Michael Tantillo instead pretended it didn’t happen.
“The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision,” Tantillo said (per CNN). “Prior to that, his course was pretty straight.”
What in the hell was he watching? In a case that came down to one critical moment, the moment was either missed or ignored.
Last Wednesday, the Ward family issued a statement, found on Sporting News, after Stewart was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Our son got out of his car during caution while the race was suspended,” the statement read. “All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car towards him, causing this tragedy.”
The family has a point. Why else was Stewart accelerating? I’ve heard the excuse that he was just trying to get away from Ward. That doesn’t fly, though, because if that’s the excuse, that’s insinuating that Stewart doesn’t know how sprint cars work. That’s saying one of the greatest drivers of all time didn’t realize the back end of his car would step out when he jumped on the gas.
In no way am I saying that Stewart intentionally hit Ward. I certainly don’t believe that, but I do think he tried to intimidate — as Stewart always does at all levels of racing. Check out YouTube if you need any proof.
On top of the case’s critical moment being ignored, Tantillo decided to publicize that Ward had marijuana in his system at a level that could’ve impaired his judgment, essentially linking Ward’s reckless behavior that night with being a pothead — as if he jumped from his car, angry with Stewart, and walked down the track because he was high and didn’t really know where he was. It’s ridiculous. The toxicology report shouldn’t even have been mentioned. He made poor decisions that night that put him in danger, but smoking pot wasn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the Ward family has had to endure all of this mess, and in their responses have been framed as bitter since Stewart was let off the hook.
Amy Henderson, a writer on this site who I have a lot of respect for, wrote in a column on Sept. 25 that sided heavily with Stewart, “It is sad that Ward’s family can’t seem to accept his accountability.”
They do need to accept Kevin Ward’s accountability, but how do we know they haven’t? It’s possible to accept the responsibility for their loved one, while searching for justice at the same time. Wendi Ward’s letter was written because they haven’t received it so far. They’ve watched the real issues get ignored, while Kevin Ward’s reputation has been damaged and he’s the only person being held accountable.
Call Wendi Ward’s letter bitter if you want, but to me it’s just bubbling frustration from a family trying their best to heal in an impossible situation. They’re just looking for answers.
“Why was the toxicology report even an issue?” Wendi Ward asks in her letter. “Seems to me the wrong man was on trial. Tell me why Tony Stewart was not taken in for testing, why his car wasn’t impounded. Tell me how a man the size of Kevin can make a sprint car turn to the right on impact. Tell me how a lap before (the incident) everything was fine, but the following lap was poor lighting. Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means.
“Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?
“I guess we will never know why all of this was not taken into consideration. Or will we never know why a fellow driver did not check on this young man or his family? Or do we know why? I do, because I have seen the video. It’s there, and it’s real.”
The video is everywhere, and it’s real. Everyone has seen it, yet the Wards must feel like no one has seen it at all.