The Walmart truck driver who crashed into the back of comedian Tracy Morgan’s limo van was speeding 20 mph over the limit and was near the maximum daily driving limit set by federal hours-of-service rules when the crash occurred, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a preliminary report.
NTSB investigators are also looking into whether driver Kevin Roper, 45, had been awake for more than 24 hours as a criminal complaint filed by New Jersey police stated.
The crash occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early morning hours of June 7 as Mr. Morgan, his assistant, and a crew of fellow comedians were returning from a performance in Delaware. Mr. Morgan’s 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter limo had slowed down in congested traffic caused by work being performed on an overhead sign three miles ahead.
According to the NTSB report, the 2011 Peterbilt truck owned and operated by Walmart and driven by Mr. Roper was traveling at 65 mph for a minute before the crash. The driver allegedly failed to heed a sign a mile before the crash that lanes ahead were closed for construction and another sign a half mile later reducing the speed from 55 mph to 45 mph.
The police report stated that the “two vehicles moved forward and were involved in secondary impacts with other vehicles that were slowed in the traffic queue,” and that “The limo van rolled over and came to a rest on its left side, facing east, across the center and right lanes.”
The impact killed Mr. Morgan’s friend James McNair, 62, a fellow comedian who was also a passenger in the van. Another passenger, Jeff Millea, was critically injured, but his condition has improved to “fair” since the crash. Mr. Morgan is also listed in fair condition and has been transferred to a rehabilitation center where he is expected to undergo several weeks of therapy.
Mr. Roper, who lives in Georgia but commutes more than 700 miles to his job in Smyrna, Delaware, has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto and is free on a $50,000 bond. He had been making deliveries to Wlamart stores in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before the crash.
Federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations limit commercial drivers to 14-hour shifts before a mandatory period of rest. Mr. Roper had been driving for 13 hours and 32 minutes at the time of the crash, which traffic safety groups say demonstrates the need for better hours-of-service rules.
Just two days before the crash, a Senate committee voted to loosen the regulations.
“The NTSB’s preliminary findings in this case clearly show that truck drivers are pushing beyond the limits of the current hours of service rules,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said.
Had Mr. Roper completed his delivery to a Walmart location in Perth Amboy, N.J., he may have exceeded the 14-hour driving limit, critics of the plan to relax HOS regulations say.