The National Transportation Safety Board officially attributed last year’s highway crash between a Wal-Mart truck and a limo carrying comedian Tracy Morgan to truck driver fatigue.
The NTSB concluded that the accident could have been prevented if the driver, Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, had slowed to 45 mph, which was the posted speed limit for the construction zone near where the accident occurred. The driver had been travelling at 65 mph and failed to react quickly enough to avoid striking the limousine. It was later found that Roper had been awake for the previous 28 hours before the crash, which caused a chain reaction affecting 21 people in a total of six vehicles.
Roper, who had driven over 800 miles to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Delaware from Georgia, had only worked for Wal-Mart for 15 weeks and had racked up nine “critical event reports” that caused him to lose a safety bonus. These reports, which are downloaded by the truck’s computers and sent to Wal-Mart for review, indicate unsafe driving habits such as hard braking or activation of the truck’s stability control system.
Unfortunately, there were other safety issues at play on the part of the limousine. None of the limo passengers were wearing seatbelts, and a piece of plywood that had been used to separate the cab from the passengers ended up blocking the limo’s occupants from escaping the wreck after the limo landed on its side. It took emergency responders nearly 40 minutes to free the first of the crash victims from the wreckage. If the vehicle had caught fire, Morgan and the rest of the limo occupants would have been trapped and would likely not have survived.
Morgan suffered a head trauma and was in a coma for two weeks, and also suffered a broken leg and broken ribs. He is still not fully healed and has not performed since his accident. “Jimmy Mack” McNair, a fellow comedian, was killed, and three other passengers suffered serious injuries.
Roper was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto for knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours. Morgan and two others injured in the crash settled a lawsuit against Wal-Mart in May for an undisclosed amount, and McNair’s children successfully made a wrongful death claim for $10 million.
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