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NASCAR driver will not face charges stemming from incident at dirt track on Aug. 9. USA TODAY Sports
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On Wednesday morning, a prominent accident reconstruction expert from a Chicago suburb laid out for an Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury what he determined had preceded the death of Kevin Ward Jr.
The consultant, Gary Wayne Cooper, had dissected videos of the fatal accident, greatly slowing them down to try to recreate the fateful and fatal steps Ward had taken, and the on-track reactions of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.
Not long after the presentation, the grand jury decided not to criminally charge Stewart.
“We … had testify one of the forensics experts who had of course taken all of the videos, broken them down into separate frames of seconds, and thoroughly broke everything down to the point where you more clearly could see precisely what happened — the distance and time factors, the physics of the accident,” said Rochester attorney John Speranza, who, along with the Indianapolis law firm of Voyles Zahn and Paul, represented Stewart.
The Indianapolis firm contacted Speranza, a longtime area defense lawyer, shortly after the Aug. 9 accident at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Speranza agreed to serve as local counsel for Stewart.
Both the State Police and the defense expert reconstructed the accident, Speranza said.
The defense reconstruction determined that there was only 1.3 seconds between the time one car passed Ward, who was walking on the track, and when Stewart’s car struck Ward.
“Essentially (Ward) was caught up in that large rear wheel” of Stewart’s car, Speranza said.
Also, Speranza said, Cooper decided that Stewart’s car had not struck Ward’s earlier, as many had surmised. Speranza said he did not know whether the State Police reconstruction also reached that conclusion, but clearly the grand jury — having heard both versions — determined that Stewart did not respond unreasonably while driving.
“We did a complete independent investigation with a private investigator,” Speranza said. “We interviewed probably 10 to 20 witnesses, many of them of course the same witnesses that the police had interviewed.”
The grand jury was also likely swayed by the evidence that Ward had used marijuana and was driving in what District Attorney Michael Tantillo said was an “impaired” state, Speranza said.
On Wednesday afternoon, about an hour after Tantillo announced the grand jury decision, Speranza spoke with Stewart by telephone. Stewart was pleased with the grand jury decision, but cannot shake the fact that a 20-year-old died at the racetrack, Speranza said.
“He’s still extremely upset about this,” Speranza said.
Gary Craig writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., a Gannett affiliate.
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