Kevin J. Roper hadn’t slept in 24 hours before causing a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that left one man dead and comedian Tracy Morgan in critical condition, reports say.
The truck driver from Georgia has been charged in the crash amid allegations that he dozed off at the wheel in the early morning hours on Saturday. He faces four charges of assault by auto and one count of death by auto.
Roper was originally scheduled to make an appearance in state court on Monday, but reports say the appearance was moved to Wednesday. The Walmart truck driver remained free on $50,000 bond.
Police said Kevin J. Roper hadn’t slept for nearly a day when he failed to slow for traffic on the expressway. He then swerved to avoid a crash, slamming into a Mercedes limousine bus carrying Tracy Morgan and other comedians. James McNair, a comedian known as “Jimmy Mack,” was killed in the crash.
Morgan remains in critical condition, with several broken bones and a long recovery ahead of him.
New details of the crash have emerged this week, with those involved saying the truck set off a chaotic chain reaction on the highway.
“I climbed around and heard Tracy screaming for help,” said Tyrone Gale, the driver of the limo bus. “I climbed up on the body of the limo bus… but I couldn’t reach them.”
The crash may have larger implications. Safety advocates say the crash underscores the dangerous conditions truck drivers face, working up to 70 hours per week and logging many miles on the road.
“This isn’t an aberrant or unusual thing that just sort of happened for no reason,” said Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “This is part of a systemic problem of having tired people driving at night and driving large trucks.”
To convict the truck driver, prosecutors may have to prove that Kevin J. Roper hadn’t slept, as the reports indicate. The counts of assault by auto and death by auto require the state to demonstrate that Roper “operated the vehicle recklessly” leading up to the crash.