Tony Stewart says he did not see Kevin Ward Jr. walking on the track before striking and killing Ward during a sprint car race last year, according to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
Ward's parents, Kevin and Pamela, filed a wrongful death lawsuit last month contending Stewart's "reckless and dangerous actions" took the 20-year-old's life. Stewart's attorney, Brian Gwitt, rebuts that Stewart did not see anyone on the track and Ward put himself in danger when he decided to walk on the track and was under the influence of marijuana at the time.
"Stewart was not aware that Ward, Jr. had crashed because the crash was behind him, and was not aware that anyone was walking on the track," Stewart's response said. "Stewart did not know Ward, Jr., and had never had a previous track incident with him. Ward, Jr. approached Stewart's car and attempted to make contact with it. As a result of Ward Jr.'s actions, Ward Jr. was killed."
Kevin Ward Jr. was killed Aug. 9, 2014, during a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. He and Stewart had just been involved in an incident that disabled Ward's car on the track. Upset by the events, Ward was walking down the track to seemingly confront Stewart, who was circling around the track with the race under caution.
Stewart has called the accident "100 percent" an accident.
A grand jury exonerated Stewart of wrongdoing, declining to charge him with criminally negligent homicide or second-degree manslaughter. Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo revealed after the grand jury's decision that marijuana found in Ward's system impaired his judgment.
Pamela Ward said she doesn't think Stewart meant to hit her son, but is responsible because seeing Kevin Ward Jr. on the track Stewart "gunned his engine," which caused the sprint car to slide and hit Ward. An autopsy determined Ward died from massive blunt force trauma.
"Our hope is that this lawsuit will hold Tony Stewart responsible for killing our son and show him there are real consequences when someone recklessly takes another person's life," Kevin and Pamela Ward said in a statement last month.
The Ward family is seeking unspecified damages. No trial date has been set.