A subdued Tony Stewart spoke publicly today for the first time since the death of fellow NASCAR driver Kevin Ward Jr., but he said he did not feel the need to speak to Ward's family because "I know it was an accident."
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Stewart, known for his edgy personality, was sympathetic to Ward's family, which issued a statement over the weekend suggesting that prosecutors treated Stewart lightly because of his status in the racing world when they determined Ward's death was an accident. Ward was killed last month when he walked angrily onto an upstate New York dirt track and was struck by Stewart's car.
"I want to be available to them," Stewart said. But he added, "I don't need to talk to them for closure. ... I know it was an accident."
He also deplored people "picking sides" in the case.
"It's not about picking sides. A young man lost his life. His family is in mourning. My family is in mourning," Stewart said.
He criticized people who are picking sides "instead of honoring a racer."
"It's like watching people throw darts at each other," Stewart said, adding, "It doesn't solve anything, it doesn't fix anything. In the end, it doesn't help anybody."
It was the first time Stewart has spoken publicly since Ward's death and it came a day after Ward's aunt released a long statement.
"Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means," Wendi Ward wrote. "Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?"
Ward's aunt questioned why a toxicology test was done on her nephew. The test found marijuana in Ward's system.
"Why was the toxicology report even an issue? Seems to me the wrong man was on trial," Wendi Ward wrote in the open letter shared with ABC News four days after a grand jury investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to indict the NASCAR star.
Stewart declined to address the marijuana finding.
"Honestly, for me it doesn't change anything," he said.
Stewart repeated a statement he made shortly after the grand jury declined to press charges against him.
"I know in my heart it was 100 percent an accident," he said.
Stewart said in the days after the fatal accident "I didn't care if I showered, I forced myself to eat" and said he didn't want to talk to anybody.
"Hopefully, through this I will somehow be a better person," he said.