Former NASCAR Cup champion Kurt Busch will not face criminal charges over allegations of domestic abuse made by his former partner Patricia Driscoll.
Dover police completed their investigation in late December and formally handed over the case to the prosecutors on January 6, who continued to probe the case for almost two months. The announcement that no charges would be forthcoming over the matter finally came on Thursday morning from the Delaware attorney general's public information officer, Carl Kanefsky.
Kanefsky said that the department "has carefully reviewed the complaint made of an alleged act of domestic violence involving Kurt Busch in Dover on September 26, 2014, which was reported to the Dover Police Department on November 5, 2014 and investigated.
"After a thorough consideration of all of the available information about the case, it is determined that the admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Busch committed a crime during the September 26th incident," the statement continued.
"Likelihood of meeting that high burden of proof is the standard for prosecutors in bringing a case," the statement concluded. "For this reason, the Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges in this case."
Although Busch will doubtless be relieved to know that he doesn't face a criminal trial over the allegations that he slammed Driscoll's head into the wall of his trailer during an argument at Dover International Raceway last autumn, it doesn't change his current indefinite suspension from NASCAR competition, or the protection order issued by a Delaware family court requiring him to stay at least 100 yards away from Driscoll at all times for the next 12 months.
Busch has also been told he cannot own or buy firearms or ammunition during that period, and that he must undergo a psychiatric evaluation for "mental health problems related to anger control and impulse control." The burden of proof for civil proceedings is lower than that for criminal cases and requires only a balance of probability, rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The published conclusions from the family court commissioner - which found that "it is more likely than not" that Busch has assaulted Driscoll - led to NASCAR deciding not to wait any longer before suspending Busch from all competition with immediate effect on February 20.
Busch exhausted the sport's expedited appeals process and the suspension was upheld, meaning he missed the Daytona 500 and the following week's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he was deputised in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet by Regan Smith.
NASCAR said when they suspended Busch that their decision to do so was independent of the outcome of the criminal investigation, and so today's news that Busch does not face criminal charges will not result in his reinstatement in the sport.
Instead, NASCAR has given Busch a list of terms and conditions drawn up with the help of a domestic violence expert that the driver will need to fulfil in order to be considered for reinstatement. It was reported earlier this week that Busch had agreed and signed the terms and had already commenced the required program. The details have not been made public, and it's not known how long the program might take before he is eligible for reinstatement.
"We will expect a report back from the expert that we've asked to institute the program, in terms of when and if he's recommending a reinstatement," explained David Higdon, NASCAR's vice president for integrated marketing communications. "There are other things in our terms and conditions that kind of go outside the realm of the expert, so it would have to meet our overall [requirements]."
Confirming that the sanctioning body's position on Busch's suspension was unchanged, Higdon said on Thursday: "NASCAR is aware of the Delaware Department of Justice announcement today regarding driver Kurt Busch. As we disclosed Monday, he has accepted the terms and conditions of a reinstatement program and is actively participating in the program.
"Kurt Busch's eligibility for reinstatement will continue to be governed by that program and the NASCAR Rule Book, though the elimination of the possibility of criminal charges certainly removes a significant impediment to his reinstatement."
Chevrolet - which suspended its commercial arrangement with Busch on the same day that he was penalised by NASCAR - also confirmed that today's announcement did not alter their position with regards to the driver.
“Our relationship with Kurt Busch remains unchanged," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. "He remains suspended, and we will continue to monitor all aspects of this situation.”
Driscoll and her legal team were understandably unhappy with the announcement that Busch would not face criminal charges. "Patricia and I are very disappointed that Kurt will not be prosecuted for the abusive acts he committed in September," Driscoll's attorney Carolyn McNeice told USA Today immediately afterwards. "The AG's decision, however, only makes the order that we received for protection from abuse that much more important. As you can see, in some cases, this is the only protection the victim will get."
Busch on the other hand was delighted with the day's developments: “I am grateful that the prosecutors in Delaware listened, carefully considered the evidence, and after a thorough investigation decided to not file criminal charges against me," he said in a statement.
"I wish to thank my family, friends, fans, and race team who stood by me throughout this nightmare with their unwavering support," the statement added. "Thanks also goes to my legal team for making sure that the truth got out and was fully provided to the prosecutors. As I have said from the beginning, I did not commit domestic abuse. I look forward to being back in racing as soon as possible and moving on with my life."
Smith will once again stand in for Busch in this weekend's third round of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, while David Ragan will continue to substitute for Kurt's brother Kyle who broke his leg in an accident in a support race at Daytona International Speedway the same weekend as the Daytona 500.
It was announced on Wednesday that Ragan's seat in the #34 Front Row Motorsports will be taken by Brett Moffitt for the next three rounds of Cup competition, following Moffitt's eye-catching performance last weekend as a stand-in driver for Brian Vickers in the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
Moffitt claimed a career-best eighth place at Atlanta as he filled in for Vickers, who has been recovering from off-season heart surgery. Vickers himself returns to race duty for the first time in 2015 this weekend at LVMS.