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November 24, 2014

Joe Medley's In My Opinion: ‘Smoke’ was there; let’s hope no fire

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Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 5:57 pm | Updated: 6:12 pm, Wed Aug 13, 2014.

It’s been a few days since Tony Stewart hit fellow racer Kevin Ward Jr. in a fatal sprint-car incident in New York. The country quickly became more consumed with the Monday suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

But just when it seems Ward’s death has faded from the headlines, there comes legal analysis from the Associated Press, indicating that Stewart could still face criminal charges.

The three-time NASCAR champion could be charged with second-degree manslaughter under New York law if prosecutors believe he ‘‘recklessly caused the death of another person.’’ Negligent homicide is another possible charge.

“The question over whether someone was reckless is a factual one, and one a prosecutor might let a jury decide,” criminal law professor Corey Rayburn Yung of the Kansas University School of Law said for a story posted Tuesday.

It’s hard to believe that Stewart would deliberately hit Ward, who had climbed out of his wrecked car and walked down the track, apparently to confront Stewart.

Then again, amateur video seems to show at least one man reacting angrily toward the other, resulting in unintended consequences. Perhaps one cool head could have prevented a tragedy.

Ward put himself in peril, but how to interpret Stewart’s apparent gunning of the engine as Ward came up beside Stewart’s car? Was it an angry impulse? Was Stewart trying to send a message, or was he throttling up so the car could handle the dirt track’s slick corners?

We know “Smoke” was there. There’s been enough tragedy, so let’s hope there’s not fire.

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