NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The driver charged in the multi-vehicle crash on the New Jersey Turnpike on Saturday that injured Tracy Morgan and killed a New York comedian, made his first appearance in court Wednesday in New Brunswick, N.J.
Kevin Roper, 35 of Jonesboro, Ga. has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in connection with the early morning six-vehicle crash after the tractor trailer he was driving allegedly crashed into Morgan's chauffeured limo van.
Under New Jersey law, a person can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours. According to the criminal complaint, Roper was operating the truck "without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident."
James McNair, 62, of Peekskill, N.Y., Morgan's mentor and a passenger in the 2012 Mercedes limo van was pronounced dead at the scene of the 1:53 a.m. crash. McNair's funeral is scheduled for Thursday.
Four other passengers, including Morgan, were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Morgan, 45, and Jeffrey Millea, 36, of Shelton, Conn., were airlifted to the hospital.
Morgan, a New York City native, suffered broken leg bones, a broken nose and several broken ribs in the crash. He underwent surgery on his leg Sunday but contrary to rumors, it was not amputated, according to his publicist.
Morgan remains in critical but stable condition, according to a statement sent out by his publicist Lewis Kay on Tuesday evening. Kay said there has been no change in Morgan's condition and going forward he would only provide updates when there is new information to share. Kay had previously indicated Morgan is expected to be hospitalized for several weeks.
Morgan, a former 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live cast member, was returning from a comedy show appearance in Delaware when the Mercedes limo bus carrying seven people overturned.
Millea and fellow passenger Ardie Fuqua Jr., a comedian, both remain in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, according to Peter Haigney, hospital spokesman.
A fifth passenger, comic Harris Stanton, was treated and released. Two others in the limo were unhurt, including the driver, Tyrone Gale.
Police said Roper, driving a Walmart tractor-trailer, apparently failed to notice slow traffic ahead and swerved at the last minute to avoid a crash, but instead crashed into the back of the limo, prompting a chain-reaction crash with a second tractor-trailer, a sport utility vehicle and two cars.
Several turnpike motorists called 911 to report the accident, apparently unaware Morgan was involved. Tapes of the 911 calls were released Tuesday.
Wal-Mart President Bill Simon has said in a statement that the company "will take full responsibility" if authorities determine its truck caused the accident.
For safety reasons, truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than 11 hours per day, and cannot drive after the 14th hour of their shift, according to the American Trucking Association. Drivers also are required to have 10 consecutive hours off duty between shifts, and drivers also cannot work more than 60 hours in any seven-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-day period for companies that operate every day of the week.
Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, and about 1,550 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year in the U.S., and driver fatigue is a leading factor, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Saturday's early morning accident occurred in a congested area of the New Jersey Turnpike where a five-year widening project is expected to finish this year. Two of the three northbound lanes had been closed about a mile ahead of the accident for road work, leading to the traffic slow down, according to turnpike officials.