A federal agency has concluded that the driver of a Wal-Mart tractor trailer was the primary cause of a crash that seriously injured actor Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian last year.
On June 7, 2014, Morgan — best known for his work on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” — was in a limo bus when it was rear-ended by a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike. The crash killed comedy writer James McNair. Morgan suffered a broken leg, nose and ribs in the accident. He was also in a coma for two weeks afterward and has no memory of what happened. His attorney has previously said Morgan he was close to death and had suffered a traumatic brain injury. As of a few months ago, the actor was having memory trouble and getting headaches and nosebleeds. His career since the crash has been largely on hold. Though he’s settled with Wal-Mart and done a “Today” show interview, he has not performed publicly since the incident. But he was spotted out driving last month.
Now, the National Transportation Safety Board has largely blamed Kevin Roper, the driver of the tractor-trailer, for the collision. The NTSB determined Roper, who has been charged with vehicular homicide and assault by auto, had driven 800 miles from his home in Georgia to his workplace in Delaware before attempting to drive farther north on no sleep. The resulting crash involved 21 people and six vehicles.
“Hours-of-service rules cannot address what drivers do on their own time,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in a news release. “This driver had been on duty 13½ hours of a 14-hour workday, but had been awake more than 28 hours at the time of the crash. Fatigue management programs can help.”
The NTSB pointed out that Wal-Mart discussed fatigue as part of its driver training before the crash, but did not “have a structured fatigue management program in place.”
“To its credit, Walmart has taken steps to bolster its driver fatigue education and policies since this crash,” Chairman Hart said. “Today we recommended that Walmart implement a fatigue management program.”
But Roper wasn’t the only cause the NTSB identified for the crash’s consequences.
“None of the passengers in the passenger compartment of the limo van struck in this accident were wearing their seat belts when the crash occurred,” a synopsis of the NTSB report read. The agency also pointed out that the limo bus had been modified, which “delayed emergency evacuation.”
“The passengers … had no available exits until emergency responders removed part of a plywood panel that had been installed between the passenger compartment and the cab,” Hart said at a meeting in Washington, as Reuters reported.
Emergency responders also fell short, the NTSB said.
“Responders did not obtain appropriate medical resources in a timely fashion, and the standard of care provided by some responders was inadequate,” the synopsis read. “Some of the injured occupants of the limo van were moved before they were properly restrained and stabilized. Such problems could be addressed by ensuring that responding agencies adhere to minimum training and practice standards.”
In addition, the NTSB said that Morgan’s party should have had a “pretrip safety briefing.”
“Pretrip safety briefings are beneficial to all passenger operations, but they are particularly needed in limousine service because the seating configuration in such vehicles is intended to create a relaxed social setting,” the synopsis read. “In such an environment, passengers may easily overlook the use of seat belts if not prompted by the vehicle operator.”
After the report became public, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) tweeted that monitoring of truck drivers should be expanded by the Department of Transportation.
“Truck driver fatigue isnt going away,” the senator wrote. “DOT must speed up implementation of black boxes, like in cockpits, to record hours & alert drivers.”