Report: Kevin Ward Jr. smoked marijuana within hours of last race

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Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed after being struck by Tony Stewart during a sprint car race a year ago, had smoked marijuana “probably within a couple of hours of the race but at the outside within five hours of the race,” according to a story by Leo Roth in Sunday’s (Rochester, N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle.

The Democrat & Chronicle story, which looks back on the Aug. 9, 2014, incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, marks the first time it has been reported how soon before the race Ward was believed to have smoked marijuana.

Michael Tantillo, district attorney for Ontario County, revealed in the story when he was informed by the chief toxicologist about marijuana in Ward’s system.

“He said, ‘We made some findings here that are very dramatic and we know they will be significant because of the high profile of this case, so we re-checked them and re-re-checked them with multiple chemists and these are valid,’ ” Tantillo told the Democrat & Chronicle. “The metabolites of the marijuana that were found in his system indicated that he had been smoking marijuana probably within a couple hours of the race but at the outside within five hours of the race. It was a significant factor, no question about it.”

Tantillo also said that police experts, along with a prominent accident reconstructionist hired by Stewart’s legal team, analyzed video of the accident in detail with enhanced images slowed to 75, 50 and 25 percent.

“It made it very clear that Tony Stewart was driving on a straight path until he collided with Kevin Ward and then he veered to the right, up the track as a result of the collision,” Tantillo said. “When you look at it you may say, ‘Oh, it looks like he swerved.’ But in reality that was not substantiated by the lab work.”

The story reports that the defense reconstruction team determined a time of 1.3 seconds between when the car ahead of Stewart passed Ward and when Ward was struck by Stewart’s car. The story reports that a N.Y. State Police investigation revealed a similar timeframe.

“They were off in their calculations by a couple hundredths of a second, but both arrived at the same conclusion that Tony Stewart, from the moment he could have been able to see Kevin Ward, he had about 1 second to react,” Tantillo told the Democrat & Chronicle. “The grand jury felt that’s not sufficient to attach criminal liability to.”

An Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury ruled Sept. 24 that Stewart would not face criminal charges. After that ruling, Tantillo said that the toxicology report revealed that Ward “was under the influence of marijuana”

Friday, attorneys for Ward’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tony Stewart. Ward’s parents issued a statement Friday saying: “Our son was truly the light of our lives and we miss him terribly every day. 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.”

The Democrat & Chronicle story notes that Tantillo did not feel there was grounds to charge Stewart with a crime, but that the matter deserved a grand jury’s investigatory powers.

“We put everything else we were working on on the shelf,” Tantillo told the Democrat & Chronicle. “It was an important case and it deserved it.”