By Steve Ginsburg
(Reuters) - The family of Kevin Ward Jr., who was struck and killed by fellow driver Tony Stewart during a sprint car race in upstate New York last year, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NASCAR star on Friday, lawyers said.
Stewart, 44, one of the biggest names in auto racing, fatally struck the 20-year-old Ward during a non-NASCAR race on Aug. 9 on a dimly lit part of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park track, about an hour's drive west of Syracuse.
Stewart is the only named defendant in the lawsuit filed in the 5th Judicial District for the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Lowville, said lawyer Mark Lanier, adding that the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ward's parents, Kevin and Pamela.
"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 Wards said in a statement.
Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the race and the collision sent Ward into an outside retaining wall while Stewart remained in the race. Ward jumped from his car in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart during the ensuing caution period.
When Stewart's car came around on the next lap, Ward, while in the middle of the track, pointed at Stewart. As Stewart approached Ward, his car appeared to swerve, striking Ward and throwing him 50 feet (15 meters).
Ward was pronounced dead at a hospital near the track.
The lawsuit said Stewart, a three-time champion of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series, wrongfully caused Ward's death by acting with "wanton, reckless and malicious intent and negligence," Lanier said in a statement.
Stewart was cleared last September by a grand jury investigating the dirt-track accident.
Toxicology tests indicated that Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night of the incident, at levels "enough to impair judgment," Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo told a news conference about seven weeks after the accident.
Stewart, who sat out the next three NASCAR races following the accident, would not comment on the lawsuit, his representatives said.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler)