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A grand jury has declined to indict NASCAR racer Tony Stewart for the death of Kevin Ward Jr., for the moment leaving Stewart free of criminal liability.
According to Fox News, prosecutors presented evidence that Ward was "under the influence of marijuana" on the night of the racing accident, which may partly explain why the grand jury let Stewart off the hook. But Stewart isn't exactly out of the woods yet.
What's ahead for Stewart, and how did the grand jury reach its decision?
The New York grand jury issued its decision Wednesday, finding there wasn't enough evidence to charge Stewart with murder -- or any crime, actually. After hearing evidence for "the better part of two days," the grand jury of 23 persons declined to indict on either second degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide charges.
Stewart released a brief statement following the grand jury's return of no indictments, saying it had been "the toughest and most emotional experience of [his] life," NASCAR.com reported. That said, Stewart has been back at the raceways since late August.
The fact that the grand jury chose not to indict Stewart on Wednesday does not preclude prosecutors from seeking the same or more charges for the fatal crash later on. Since there was neither a trial nor a dismissal or acquittal, prosecutors still have another bite at the apple to charge Stewart if more evidence arises.
While Stewart isn't likely to be hauled into criminal court for Ward's death, he may be subject to a civil suit. If Ward's family decides to file a wrongful death suit against Stewart or the raceway for the death of their 20-year-old son, Stewart's actions may be scrutinized again.
It may be up to a civil court to determine whether Ward's intoxicated state or Stewart's driving (or some combination of the two) was responsible for Ward's death. Ward's post mortem marijuana toxicology report would be very likely to surface during any future civil trial.
NASCAR has since prohibited drivers from climbing out of crashed or disabled vehicles (unless they're on fire) until safety personnel arrive. Hopefully the rule change makes American racing a tad safer.
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