In the early morning hours of June 7, actor/comedian Tracy Morgan and three friends rode home from Morgan’s gig in Delaware on the New Jersey turnpike when a Wal-Mart 18-wheeler driven by Kevin Roper slammed into the back of their limousine van. The force of the collision caused the limo van to roll over on its left side across two lanes of the turnpike, which caused a chain reaction involving four more vehicles, including another 18-wheeler. Morgan, best known for stints on the popular NBC shows Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, suffered a broken leg, broken nose, and several broken ribs, landing him in the hospital in critical condition. His friend and comedy writer Jimmy Mack was killed. While the crash gained unusual notoriety due to Morgan’s fame, its reported causes and consequences are all too typical for big rig accidents.
- Trucker Fatigue. According to a court document filed by the New Jersey State Police, Roper had not slept for over 24 hours at the time of the crash. A study done by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration almost ten years ago describes trucker fatigue as an important crash cause. Notably, this crash came just a week after a United States Senate committee proposed changing a federal safety regulation to reinstate an eighty-two hour work week for truckers, as requested by the trucking industry. The current regulation limits trucker work weeks to seventy hours.
New Jersey authorities charged Roper with vehicular homicide under a state law criminalizing fatigued driving by making it illegal for a driver awake longer than 24 hours to operate a vehicle. He also faces four counts of assault by auto. Roper pled not guilty.
While regulations currently limit a trucker’s shift to fourteen hours, a report on the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated Roper was just twenty-eight minutes shy of this limit at the time of the crash. The report noted his destination lay over twenty miles beyond the crash site.
- Speed. The NTSB report found Roper drove 65 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone before the crash, citing evidence retrieved from the truck’s data recorder (or “black box”).
- Inattention. The NTSB report stated traffic slowed right before the crash because some lanes were closed for construction about three miles ahead. According to reports, authorities stated the trucker did not see slow-moving traffic ahead of him, contributing to the crash.
A Stark Reminder for All of Us
It often takes a tragedy involving a celebrity to remind us all we are at risk. Truckers and their employers have an obligation to operate their potentially deadly machines with the highest level of care for our safety. When they don’t, the consequences can change lives forever.
The investigation remains ongoing, so we must all be mindful that both the truck driver and Wal-Mart are entitled to their day in court where they must be proven at fault before being ordered to answer for this crash.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, a tired, overworked trucker racing to meet a deadline set by a demanding employer to generate profits is a menace on our roads. At Holland & Usry, we recognize the reported causes and the consequences of this 18-wheeler crash as all too typical.
Do you need more information on severe 18-wheeler accident injuries? Are you concerned about the dangers posed by careless truckers on I-85 or I-26? Read our related articles on this site. Also, check out our free report on South Carolina traffic accident cases, which includes a chapter on tractor-trailer wrecks.