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Walmart Blames Tracy Morgan, Others For Not Wearing Seatbelts During Crash

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Walmart says actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and other people in a vehicle struck from behind by a company truck on the New Jersey Turnpike in June weren't wearing seatbelts.

As WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported, Walmart's filing was made Monday in New Jersey federal court in response to a lawsuit Morgan filed in July.

The accident killed Comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair, 62, of Peekskill, a friend of Morgan's who was accompanying the former "Saturday Night Live'' and "30 Rock'' star back from a show in Delaware.

Walmart Blames Tracy Morgan, Others For Not Wearing Seatbelts During Crash

Morgan was critically injured and spent several weeks in rehab with rib and leg injuries.

Jeffrey Millea, of Shelton, Conn., and comedian Ardie Fuqua, who opened up for Morgan, were critically injured. Thirty minutes before the crash, Fuqua posted photos from the show and bus, along with the caption "Road life is a good life."

Comedian Harris Stanton suffered a broken wrist in the crash.

Morgan was among several people injured who are suing the company for negligence.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart Stores Inc. says the passengers' injuries were caused by their "failure to properly wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device,'' which it says constitutes unreasonable conduct.

"By failing to exercise ordinary care in making use of available seatbelts, upon information and belief, plaintiffs acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs' own best interests," stated Walmart.

Authorities say the truck driver, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Georgia, hadn't slept for more than 24 hours before the crash.

Federal regulations limit truckers to 11 hours of driving during a 14-hour work day, with no more than 70 hours a week on the road without extra breaks. Drivers who are too sleepy to drive safely must pull over, according to the regulations.

The number of fatal crashes involving large trucks rose between 2009 and 2012 after a four-year decline. Fatigue is a major factor in many of these accidents. Thirteen percent of crashes involve a driver who is not properly rested, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The section of the Turnpike in Cranbury where the crash took place is even notorious by New Jersey Turnpike standards. It has been called "the Big Road," "the Monster," and "the Black Dragon."

A retired New Jersey State trooper said 18 months of experience are required before being assigned to the stretch of the roadway as an officer.

"In terms of the length, in many cases, it's a mundane kind of trip or ride, so people will tend to lose focus and not pay attention," a former trooper said.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 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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