(Reuters) - The case of a fatal dirt-track incident involving three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart in upstate New York last month will be referred to a grand jury, authorities said on Tuesday.
Stewart, one of the biggest names in auto racing, struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward during a non-NASCAR sprint car race on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
“I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter,” said Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo.
Stewart skipped the next three NASCAR races following the incident on a dimly lit track about an hour’s drive west of Syracuse. He returned to NASCAR on Aug. 31 to a standing ovation at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I look forward to this process being completed, and I will continue to provide my full cooperation,” the 43-year-old Stewart, one of NASCAR’s most popular and temperamental drivers, said in a statement.
Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the race and the collision sent Ward into an outside retaining wall. During the ensuing caution period, Ward jumped out of his car in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart, who remained in the race.
When Stewart came around on the next lap, Ward, while in the middle of the track, pointed at Stewart. As Stewart approached Ward, his car appeared to swerve, striking Ward and throwing him some 50 feet (15 meters).
Ward was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The grainy video of the incident went viral, as Stewart, who had often driven in non-NASCAR races because of his love for competition, went into seclusion for the next three weeks.
“Our thoughts continue to be with all who have been impacted by this tragedy,” NASCAR said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will monitor this process and stay in close contact with (Stewart’s team) Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Tantillo said he intended to present the case to a grand jury “in the near future.”
Following the incident, NASCAR introduced new rules forbidding drivers from getting out of their cars during caution periods until permitted to by a track safety official.
Calls to Kevin and Pam Ward, the parents of Kevin Ward, Jr. were not immediately returned.
Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Sandra Maler