D.A.: Varying witness accounts likely convinced grand jury of Tony Stewart’s innocence

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During Wednesday afternoon’s press conference announcing that a grand jury had cleared Tony Stewart of potential criminal charges in the death of Kevin Ward Jr., Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo said that varying accounts by witnesses in the sprint car accident that claimed Ward’s life likely swayed the grand jury in its eventual decision.

“When I reviewed the investigation that had been prepared by the sheriff’s department, it was clear that a number of the witnesses interviewed had different perspectives of what they had seen and what they had heard,” Tantillo said. “There were varying versions of what had actually taken place.

“So there was not one clear monolithic story that was presented to me. Additionally, several of the witnesses, important witnesses, chose not to make statements to the police. They did not want to make any statements. So the only way I could find out what they had to say or what they had to offer was to subpoena them and compel them to testify, which I did.

“Finally, when you have a case of this magnitude, of this interest, I think it’s important that the public knows a large group of citizens drawn at random from the community heard all of the evidence in the case and collectively returned a judgment. I think it’s something people can rely on. That’s important, too.”

The entire task of collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses — including those Tantillo was forced to subpoena — as well as reviewing all of the statements and evidence was a massive undertaking, Tantillo noted.

“It’s not unlike most other cases that we present,” he said. “As much evidence as possible is collected, that involves statements from witnesses to what they observed, statements from witnesses who may have spoken to important participants in this matter.

“There was a lot of technical work done. There was two accident reconstructionists who worked on things like speed, distance, reaction times available and so on. You do whatever you have to in a particular case to try to provide as big a picture as possible, and I think that’s what was done in this case.”

Tantillo said he spoke to Ward’s father, Kevin Ward Sr., prior to the press conference.

“I did speak with Mr. Ward,” Tantillo said. “Mr. Ward, I would suspect, was probably disappointed by the outcome, but he was very appreciative of the work the Ontario County sheriff’s department and the District Attorney’s office had put into the case.”

Tantillo did not speak directly to Stewart, but rather to Stewart’s attorney, informing him that his client had been absolved of any potential criminal charges.

“I have no idea (what Stewart’s reaction is),” Tantillo said. “I did notify his attorney of the outcome, but beyond that, I don’t know.”

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Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.