NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck and killed a fellow sprint car driver during a race Saturday night in upstate New York. According to the Associated Press, the driver had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race in Canandaigua, N.Y.
The Ontario County Sheriff's Department later identified the driver as Kevin Ward Jr., who was pronounced dead Saturday night at a Canandaigua hospital. Ward was 20 years old. Stewart was unhurt.
According to AP, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. It is being considered an "on-track crash investigation."
"Next is continuing interviews, a continued evaluation of evidence we have, including video, and there is certainly going to be an evaluation of medical evidence when it is collected from the autopsy," Povero said to USAToday.
After initially saying today's race would be "business as usual," Stewart's manager reversed course and said that Stewart would not race in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Shortly after Sunday's race started, Stewart released this statement via Twitter:
A video of the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park showed Ward wearing a black helmet and firesuit on a dimly lit track, walking toward Stewart's car before being hit and hurtled 50 feet.
Povero said the 25-lap race was under caution when Ward was struck. Stewart's car was behind another before he hit Ward.
According to AP, a witness said it appeared Ward was trying to confront Stewart, after the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion had forced Ward into the wall on the previous lap. The video showed Ward standing to the right of Stewart's familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out and catch Ward with his right rear tire.
"The next thing I could see, I didn't see [the other driver] anymore," witness Michael Messerly said. "It just seemed like he was suddenly gone."
Stewart's team released a statement early Sunday morning: "A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We're still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding throughout this difficult time."
The dirt track, about 30 miles southeast of Rochester, canceled the remainder of the race and later posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging fans to "pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers, and families."