The Lesson The Parole World Can Learn From A Race Car Driver’s Death

Recently, a 20 year old race car driver named Kevin Ward, Jr., died following a tragic accident on a dirt racing track in upstate New York.

Ordinarily, such an event, though tragic, would not be expected to garner much media attention. However, the details and aftermath of this particular accident have been the subject of a firestorm of news reports and much speculation and discussion.  The reason for all this attention is quite simple… Ward, the relatively unknown 20 year old driver died shortly after he was struck by the right rear portion of a passing sprint car, but that passing car happened to be driven by a man named Tony Stewart.

Unless you have made it a point to ignore anything and everything related to race cars for the past 20 years, you should know that Mr. Stewart is one of the most famous and wealthy race car drivers on the planet.  Yes, this accident on a local dirt oval track in upstate New York involved the Tony Stewart.

Despite all the exhaustive coverage this accident has received, the police and investigators, so far anyway, have not charged Mr. Stewart with a crime.  I do not think he will be charged either, but we shall see.

Many who follow racing know that Tony Stewart is legendary in the racing world for being aggressive and hot tempered, particularly when he was a younger driver trying to move up the ranks and make a name for himself. My first reaction to the initial reports was that the young man who died had likely either been the sole cause of his own death, albeit unintentionally, or at the very least, his actions had greatly contributed to his death.  Now that I have watched the video of the accident on YouTube several times now,  I am pretty convinced that my first reaction is, in fact, likely the proper conclusion.

I realize that we do not have all the information and investigative evidence, but I have seen enough thus far to know that this deceased young man did some incredibly dangerous and stupid things in the seconds before he was struck by the passing race car.  As you read this, perhaps you are wondering why a Texas Parole Attorney, who is not even much more than a casual racing fan, at best, would bother to blog about a racing accident that would seem to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Texas parole, prison, or even much if any connection to crime, for that matter.

There is, however, a very real connection between the death of Kevin Ward, Jr., and many, many people who are sitting in prisons, in Texas, and elsewhere.  You see, the reason I immediately suspected that Kevin Ward had died because of his own behavior, even before I had received very much information at all, is really quite simple.

1. The initial reports said that in the moments before his death, the 20 year old Ward was racing side by side with Stewart on the outside “lane” of the dirt track and had spun out after Stewart’s sprint car had slid and bumped into Ward’s.

2. After Ward spun out, he climbed out of his car and stormed down from the relative safety of the area where his car was located, and into the area where the drivers were still racing their cars at over 100 miles per hour.

3. Ward was waving his arm in in an aggressive manner, pointing at Stewart and indicating that he wanted to immediately “confront” Stewart, who was  still racing, because he likely perceived the contact with Stewart was caused by Stewart’s own (well known) driving style and aggressive racing.

4. Ward was a 20 year old (testosterone filled) male, in an angry, highly emotional state.

Perhaps that last reason is the one which immediately made me think of all the prisoners I’ve met over the years.  Many of the most tragic cases involved boys and very young men, 16, 17 , 18, maybe 20 years old.  Most were in highly charged, emotional circumstances, and some had a mix of alcohol and/or drugs in their bodies, which further diminishes the very real struggle to maintain one’s rational thought processes under stress filled situations.

When I have interviewed such men in the calm and cordial atmosphere of an attorney visitation booth, I am almost always struck by how friendly, and sometimes, dare I say it, gentle, some of these men seem, especially the ones who are now 5 or 10 years older than they were when some terrible thing happened.

You see, when we all step back and look at things through the lens of reflection and hindsight, these tragic crimes that occur with little or no forethought, and with emotions running high, seem, well, crazy.  And yet, the actors themselves are usually not, and never have been deemed crazy or even very malicious people.

Kevin Ward, Jr. was probably a nice guy.  He was also 20, and in the heat of the moment, when he became angry that the legendary racer Tony Stewart, who races sprint cars solely as a hobby, had caused him to wreck, he acted in a tragically foolish manner.

It’s really frustrating that more people do not see that much of the most tragic and senseless crime that occurs is not the result of “bad people”.  Instead, it is the result of a bad combination of factors, one of which is almost always a young man who, at least on one occasion, did not  think clearly.

In my opinion, Kevin Ward’s death occurred for very much the same kind of thing that causes many, many young men to be sent off to prison and labeled as a “danger to society”. The immature, testosterone filled male brain will always be with us, and therefore, brief violent criminal episodes will likely never leave us, no matter how many people we lock up. Our best hope is probably to undertake a dedicated campaign to help young men understand how their own brains can so badly betray their own best interests.  We need only look to our prisons for thousands of examples of such betrayals and the devastating consequences for everyone.  The parents of Kevin Ward, Jr. need only watch the video on YouTube to see how their son’s young brain betrayed him.

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