Tony Stewart claims he did not see Kevin Ward Jr. until just before contact, court papers state

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Tony Stewart says he did not see Kevin Ward Jr. until just before Ward was struck by Stewart’s car during a sprint car race last year, according to court documents filed Friday.

Stewart’s comments came in a response to the wrongful death lawsuit filed against him by Ward’s parents Aug. 7. Stewart’s response was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The Ward family seeks unspecified damages.

Ward was struck by Stewart’s car and died Aug. 9, 2014 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park. Ward exited his car after hitting the wall. He walked down the track toward Stewart’s car during the caution and was hit and killed.

An Ontario County (N.Y.) grand jury ruled Sept. 24 that Stewart would not face criminal charges. The district attorney revealed that toxicology levels indicated that Ward was under the influence of marijuana “enough to impair judgment” at the time of the accident.

The incident that night began with Ward and Stewart racing each other when Ward crashed.

Stewart denied a claim by the Wards in their lawsuit that he made contact with Ward’s car, causing it to crash. The response from Stewart states that “Ward Jr. lost control of his vehicle, causing his vehicle to crash.”

Stewart’s response adds that Ward was at fault for what followed.

“Kevin A. Ward Jr. failed to exercise ordinary care for his own safety by, upon, information and belief, driving while impaired due to recent marijuana use, by exiting his car and walking into the path of Stewart’s car on a banked dirt track at night with improper footwear for that type of surface, and in other ways yet to be discovered, and those failures proximately caused the injuries and damages alleged in the Complaints,’’ the response stated.

“Stewart did not see Ward Jr., exit his vehicle and was not aware that Ward Jr had exited his vehicle. Stewart was not aware that anyone had exited their vehicle.

“Stewart did not see Ward Jr., or anyone else walking on foot on the track until just prior to contact, and did not know the identity of the person walking on the track until afterwards.

“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 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.’’

The response from Stewart notes the track waiver and that Ward and other competitors signed.

“With the August 9 Release, Ward Jr. expressly assumed full responsibility for any risk of death arising out of the event, acknowledged that the activities of the race were very dangerous, and unconditionally released all liability on the part of, among others, other race participants and drivers.’’

The Wards claim in their lawsuit that Stewart is responsible for their son’s death because “As Stewart’s car approached Ward, who was standing on the track, Stewart climbed up, gunned his engine, causing his 700-horsepower vehicle to slide and strike Ward with his right rear tire, crushing Ward and flinging his body an estimated 25 feet down the track.”

The Ward lawsuit also claims: “Defendant Stewart could have easily acted reasonably and with prudence to avoid striking Ward, just as all other drivers had done as they passed Ward during the yellow caution flag.

“Stewart acted with disregard for Ward’s life and safety by driving his vehicle in a manner that would terrorize Ward and thereafter strike, severely injure and kill Ward.’’

A status and scheduling conference is set for the parities for 11 a.m. Oct. 8 via teleconference with Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks.