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NTSB Says Truck Driver Fatigue To Blame In Fatal Tracy Morgan Crash

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The National Transportation Safety Board has lamed a fatigued Walmart truck driver for the crash last year on the New Jersey Turnpike that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian.

As CBS2's Ilana Gold reported, the Walmart truck slammed into a vehicle in Cranbury on June 17, 2014.

The vehicle was carrying Tracy Morgan and several friends, and the crash left the comedian with severe brain trauma and broken bones and killed his fellow comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair of Peekskill.

A year later, Morgan talked about the traumatic accident. "He was a good man, and it just hurts me to see that he's gone," Morgan said.

NTSB investigators met on Tuesday and spoke off camera, saying the crash could have been prevented and pointing the finger at Walmart driver Kevin Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia.


"He only had four hours of sleep opportunity in the 33 hours prior, and had been awake in excess of 28 hours at the time of the crash," NTSB Senior Accident Investigator Dennis Collins told reporters, including 1010 WINS' Rebecca Granet and WCBS 880's Ginny Kosola.

NTSB Managing Director Tom Zoeller said the length of time that Roper was awake "resulted in his delayed to slowing and stopped traffic in an active work zone."

Investigators said Roper refused to be interviewed, so he they examined his work and phone records.

The investigators said they learned that Roper missed a night's sleep, and was off the clock when he chose to drive from Georgia to Delaware to start his Walmart truck route.

He then immediately got behind the wheel of the company truck, and the deadly crash happened on his route hours later.

"This crash demonstrates the consequences of even one poor decision regarding fatigue," Collins said.

The NTSB provided a simulation of the crash where speed was also a factor as a result of fatigue. They said Roper was going 65 mph, when the speed limit had been reduced to 45 because of construction.

NTSB Says Truck Driver Fatigue To Blame In Fatal Tracy Morgan Crash

They also have said the truck was traveling at a rate of speed of 47 to 53 mph when it hit the limousine carrying Morgan and his friends, starting a chain reaction crash that affected 21 people in six vehicles.

Now, investigators have made it mandatory to adopt a fatigue safety program.

"Walmart submitted a plan where they're going to improve driver training," said NTSB investigator Mike Fox.

NTSB Says Truck Driver Fatigue To Blame In Fatal Tracy Morgan Crash

Since the crash, Walmart has put in daily calls to drivers to make sure they are not a risk on the road.

However, the board also said the failure of Morgan and other passengers riding in a limousine-van to wear seatbelts and adjusted headrests contributed to the severity of injuries when the limo was struck by the truck.

Investigators also said the limousine-van had been customized, and that a sheet of plywood that had been installed to separate the cab from passengers blocked occupants from escaping the vehicle after the crash.

They were also critical of the emergency response to the crash.

Morgan suffered head trauma, a broken leg and broken ribs, and was in a coma for two weeks.

Three other passengers in the limo suffered serious injuries. Morgan, a former "Saturday Night Live'' and "30 Rock'' star, and the others were returning from a show in Dover, Delaware.

Tracy Morgan Crash
Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was in critical condition after a crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. (Credit: CBS 2)

Roper was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in state court in New Jersey.

The criminal complaint alleged Roper operated the truck "without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident.''

A person can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours under New Jersey law.

The safety board has long raised concerns about operator fatigue leading to accidents across all modes of transportation, from airline pilots to train engineers.

In May, Morgan and two friends injured in the crash settled a lawsuit against Walmart for an undisclosed amount.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company settled a wrongful death claim filed by McNair's children for $10 million, according to court papers.

Using a cane, Morgan made his first public appearance this June on NBC's "Today'' show and said he hoped to resume his career but that he wasn't 100 percent healed. He hasn't performed since the accident.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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