DOVER, Del. (AP) — NASCAR driver Kurt Busch's breakup with his ex-girlfriend turned into an ugly court battle Tuesday when she described Busch in testimony as unstable and struggling with alcoholism and depression. His attorneys countered, describing her as untrustworthy and "extremely mercenary."
Patricia Driscoll, who is seeking a court order for Busch to stay away from her, told a family court commissioner that he had choked her and smashed her head into a wall inside his motorhome at Dover International Speedway after she drove from her Maryland home to check on him.
Busch attorney Rusty Hardin suggested that whatever happened the night of Sept. 26 could have been prevented had Driscoll left when Busch told her to.
"I am not to blame for him putting his hands on me," said Driscoll, at times defiant and other times sobbing, prompting Family Court commissioner David Jones to order a recess at one point so she could regain her composure.
Defense attorneys have denied the assault allegations, which are the subject of a separate criminal investigation by Dover police. Hardin said Driscoll has not presented any evidence to suggest that Busch has ever physically threatened her. Driscoll said Busch's representatives have repeatedly tried to contact people close to her, and that she fears for her safety.
"I don't know what he's capable of doing," she said.
Driscoll, 36, was the only witness to testify during Tuesday's six-hour hearing. Lawyers for Driscoll and Busch declined to comment after Tuesday's session as a stern-faced Busch left the courthouse. The hearing is set to continue Wednesday.
Driscoll testified that she became concerned about Busch after the couple fought following a race in New Hampshire, one week before the Dover incident. She said he also became violent after the New Hampshire race. Defense attorneys said Busch told her then that their relationship was over, but that she refused to accept that the couple had permanently split.
Driscoll said she tried to contact Busch's mom shortly after the New Hampshire incident, concerned that Busch, 36, was drinking and struggling with depression. Busch, she said during testimony, would sometimes "drink himself to death" but later re-emerge from his stupor to seek forgiveness.
"You're now calling him an alcoholic?" a combative Hardin asked Driscoll during his cross-examination. "... Why don't you just call a press conference and say every bad thing you can about him?"
Driscoll, who said the couple fought often but would always make up, said that on the night the alleged assault, she and Busch exchanged text messages. Busch told her he was laying on the floor of his motorhome crying and that the world was "crashing down" on him, she said.
"I was really worried," she said. "... Kurt's not the kind of person to be laying on the floor crying.... He was obviously hurting."
Driscoll said she and her son drove to Dover, thinking they might be able to comfort Busch.
Driscoll said that after she let herself into the motorhome using the key code, she and Busch began arguing in whispered tones in his bedroom while her son watched TV several feet away. Busch, she said, began railing about his crew members and fellow drivers on the Stewart-Haas Racing team. She said he was angry at Tony Stewart for an August crash at an upstate New York track in which Stewart's sprint car struck and killed another driver, and that Kevin Harvick, who went on to win this year's Sprint Cup championship and driver of the year honors, was "getting everything" while Busch was "getting nothing."
"He seemed just out of his mind, just saying crazy things.... He just kept going off about the team," Driscoll said. Then, without warning, Busch jumped up, grabbed her neck with one hand and her face with the other, and smashed her head against a wall three times, Driscoll said.
Driscoll said she fled with her 9-year-old son, sought aid in a nearby outreach motorhome, then drove home, where she took photographs of her injuries. But she did not go to a doctor or immediately call police, fearing that the incident could affect an ongoing, bitter custody battle with her ex-husband.
In his cross-examination, Hardin portrayed Driscoll as cold and calculating, telling others that she was responsible for reviving Busch's brand and image, and that he owed her money. Driscoll, Hardin said, also had told people that she was going to "take Kurt down" and destroy his career.
Hardin also alleged that after Stewart's fatal crash at the upstate New York track, Driscoll came up with a proposal to help deal with the public relations fallout, including suggesting ways they might find damaging information about the victim.