A report by federal transportation safety investigators says a truck driver was speeding before he slammed into a limousine van, killing one man and seriously injuring comedian Tracy Morgan and two other passengers, and it has raised new questions about the trucker's work schedule.
Wal-Mart driver Kevin Roper was going 65 mph (about 105 km/h) in a 45 mph zone just before the June 7 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's report. The crash killed 62-year-old James McNair of Peekskill, N.Y.
The report also detailed Roper's schedule on the day leading up to the crash, from when he left a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, at about 11:30 a.m. before making stops in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Just after midnight on June 7 he left Bristol, Pennsylvania, en route to Perth Amboy, N.J., when the crash happened about 30 minutes into his trip.
Roper had been on the job about 13 1/2 hours at the time of the crash, the report concluded. Federal rules permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel.
Had Roper continued to his eventual destination in Perth Amboy, he would have been pushing the 14-hour limit if he drove at the speed limit. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman didn't comment Thursday on Roper's hours or his itinerary.
'Drivers pushing beyond the limits,' says union
In response to the findings, the Teamsters Union urged Congress not to ease laws that limit truck drivers to 60 to 70 hours of work each week. The Senate is considering a resolution that would extend the maximum to 80 hours per week.
"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.
The safety board report said investigators were still probing Roper's activities in the days leading up to the crash to determine the amount of rest he received. A criminal complaint in New Jersey that charges the 35-year-old Jonesboro, Ga., resident with death by auto and assault by auto contends he hadn't slept in more than 24 hours before the crash. Roper has pleaded not guilty.
Messages left Thursday at several phone numbers listed for Roper's attorney were not immediately returned.
An NTSB spokesman also said Thursday the agency was probing what kind of crash avoidance technology was aboard the vehicles involved in the accident. Roper's truck was equipped with a system designed to slow its speed and notify him of stopped traffic ahead, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said in the days immediately after the crash, but it's unknown if the system was working.
Traffic was slowed on the night of the accident by construction that blocked two of the highway's three northbound lanes. According to the NTSB report, a sign warned of the lane closures about a mile south of where the accident occurred, and another sign a half-mile closer directed motorists to reduce their speed from 55 mph to 45 mph.
The truck struck Morgan's limo from behind, sending it into other vehicles and eventually onto its side. Morgan is hospitalized in fair condition with a broken leg and other injuries.
Morgan's assistant, Jeffrey Millea, of Shelton, Conn., has also been upgraded to fair condition, according to Morgan's spokesman. Hospital officials said Monday that comedian Ardie Fuqua, of Jersey City, remains in critical condition.