Kevin Roper, the Walmart driver who crashed into a limo van on the New Jersey Turnpike on June 7, leaving comedians Tracy Morgan, Ardie Fuqua and Morgan’s assistant Jeff Millea in critical condition and killing comedian James McNair, was driving 20 mph over the speed limit and had been on the clock for nearly 14 hours straight, according to federal investigators, who also released digital scans of the Walmart truck and limo (see below). Though Roper had been on the clock for 13 hours and 32 minutes – 9 hours and 37 minutes of which he was driving – he violated no laws; the legal limit is 14 hours. Roper was, however, traveling 65 mph in a 45 mph zone and, it seems, failed to notice signs warning motorists of lane closures ahead as well signs alerting drivers of the 55 mph to 45 mph reduction in speed limit.
Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga, was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault; he pleaded not guilty to all charges in State Superior Court in Middlesex County, NJ on June 11.
The good news, if there really is any good news, is that Tracy Morgan and Jeff Millea’s conditions have been upgraded to fair. Fuqua is still listed in critical condition. Today, friend and fellow comedian Amy Schumer launched a fundraising page to help support Fuqua’s family while he’s recovering. Comedian Harris Stanton, who was also in the van, was treated and released shortly after the accident occurred.
The driver of the limo bus Tyrone Gale, who was treated and released, took to Facebook to express his grief. “I can only say feeling helpless on the highway was very hard to take,” he wrote. “There was nothing I could do but scream at times. I am truly sad for the loss of James McNair.”
New Jersey’s junior U.S. Senator Corey Booker today introduced legislation that would limit truckers’ weekly workload from 82 to 70 hours. Booker’s move was in response to Congress’ plans to overturn that same legislation. Sen. Robert Menendez, Booker’s senior colleague, said, “Too many lives have been lost on our highways as a result of tired, overworked truck drivers who are pushed to the max in the name of corporate profits and at the expense of public safety.”
You can read the entire preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board below.
Preliminary Report issued: June 18, 2014
On Saturday, June 7, 2014, about 12:54 a.m., eastern daylight time, a 2011 Peterbilt truck‑tractor and semitrailer combination vehicle operated by Wal-Mart Transportation (Wal‑Mart) was traveling north on the New Jersey Turnpike, near Cranbury, New Jersey, in the center lane of the three-lane northbound roadway. As the combination vehicle approached milepost 71.4, traffic had slowed due to construction work ahead on the turnpike. The Peterbilt combination vehicle struck the rear of a 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter limo van, which was operated by Atlantic Transportation Services and occupied by a driver and six passengers. The two vehicles moved forward and were involved in secondary impacts with other vehicles that were slowed in the traffic queue. The limo van rolled over and came to rest on its left side, facing east, across the center and right lanes. As a result of the collision, one passenger in the Mercedes‑Benz limo van was fatally injured and four other van occupants were transported to the hospital with injuries of various severities. Six vehicles were involved in the impacts, but none of the other 16 people occupying these vehicles were transported to the hospital.
NTSB investigators obtained information concerning the construction project. Construction contractors were performing work on a large overhead sign about 2.7 miles north of the crash location. The right and center lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike were closed in the vicinity of this construction zone. About 0.9 mile south of the crash location, an advance warning sign notified northbound traffic of the lane closure ahead. About 0.4 mile south of the crash location, speed limit signs were posted that reduced the speed from 55 mph to 45 mph.
The Peterbilt truck-tractor was equipped with an electronically controlled Cummins ISX engine. The engine control module (ECM) could record vehicle speed, engine rpm, brake circuit status, throttle percentage, and other associated data in a sudden deceleration event. NTSB investigators imaged the ECM on June 11, 2014. A preliminary review of the data showed that the Peterbilt combination vehicle was traveling at 65 mph for the 60 seconds preceding the collision with the Mercedes-Benz limo van. NTSB investigators are correlating these data with the physical evidence.
The morning before the crash, the 35-year-old driver of the Peterbilt combination vehicle had arrived at a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware, and electronic driver log information showed that he went on duty at 11:22 a.m. on June 6, 2014. The log also showed that the driver made deliveries and pickups in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania throughout the day. According to his log, about 12:20 a.m. on June 7, 2014, the driver left a Wal-Mart facility near Bristol, Pennsylvania, en route to a facility in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The crash occurred about 30 miles after he left the Pennsylvania facility. According to electronic driver log information, the Peterbilt combination vehicle driver had logged 9 hours 37 minutes of driving time when the crash occurred. With respect to the maximum 14-hour consecutive duty period for commercial motor vehicle drivers, the driver had logged 13 hours 32 minutes at the time of the collision. NTSB investigators are comparing the log information with supporting documentation. Additionally, investigators are compiling and analyzing information to determine the activities of the Peterbilt combination vehicle driver and the amount of rest he received in the hours and days preceding the crash.