Aug 102014 11 Responses

Tony Stewart Did Not Kill Anyone

Nearly every headline reads the same, “Tony Stewart Hits, Kills Driver.” It’s provocative. It’s attention grabbing. And it’s false.

The headline may be smart in today’s click-thirsty culture, but it’s reckless journalism and it must stop.

In a tragic accident, dirt-track driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed when he was hit by a car driven by Tony Stewart.

Ward died, but Stewart didn’t kill him. The car killed him. The impact of the crash killed him. The coroner will be able to give in excruciating detail what killed him. But Stewart didn’t kill him. (See: No Words Are Perfect)

Language matters. While we loosely throw around words without any understanding of consequences, our words have a lasting impact. To take a tragic accident and place total blame on one person is neither wise nor useful. It’s damaging to everyone involved.

This isn’t to say Stewart is completely innocent. Over the next few weeks, investigators will have to understand every detail of the situation. It is very possible that Stewart’s actions may have contributed to Ward’s death and it is possible Stewart should face criminal charges. More than likely, the details will lead to a tough judgment call by the prosecutor and District Attorney. It is doubtful Stewart took any deliberate action which led to Ward’s death. It is possible Stewart made some reckless choices which led to the accident. Clearly by exiting the car and putting himself in danger, Ward made some poor choices which allowed the accident. However, Ward’s actions were not that different from many other drivers over the past few decades.

In all probability, the death was simply an accident.

However, whether Stewart is culpable or not, the fact remains—Tony Stewart did not kill anyone.

Unless prosecutors unearth facts which show an evil intention to purposely run over Ward, Stewart didn’t kill him. While Stewart is accountable for his decisions and actions, those actions led to an accident, not a murder. (See: A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

If we aren’t careful, we can add unnecessary grief to Stewart by poorly choosing how we describe the accident. If I were Stewart’s pastor, I would refuse to allow him to say, “I killed him.” I would continually correct the language by Stewart or anyone. “The car killed him.” “The accident killed him.” “A broken neck killed him.” I would tell Stewart, “you did not kill him.”

Most airline accidents are caused by pilot error, but we do not routinely say, “the pilot killed the passengers.”

In every fatal car accident, someone made a mistake, but we rarely say “one driver killed the other.”

With previous on track deaths, we have not said one driver killed the other.

We always say it was an accident. Unless there is more evidence then what we have seen, this was an accident.

Our words matter and the more tense a situation, the more important our words. Report the story, but report it accurately. Tony Stewart did not kill Kevin Ward Jr.

For more, see:

Use Hard Words Not Harsh Words

Top Ten Communication Posts Your Co-workers Should Read

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