WASHINGTON – The crash that injured comedian Tracy Morgan was caused by a fatigued truck driver speeding along the New Jersey Turnpike without his automatic-braking system engaged, federal investigators ruled Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board found that the Wal-Mart truck driver who struck the limo carrying Morgan was traveling 65 mph near Cranbury, N.J., in a construction zone where the speed limit is 45 mph before the collision in the early hours of June 7, 2014.
The truck could have avoided the collision with the Mercedes Benz limo van if truck driver Kevin Roper, 35, had obeyed the 45 mph speed limit and started applying the brakes at the same point before traffic slowed by the construction, the board said. The automatic-braking system in Roper's Peterbilt truck worked only when cruise-control was on, which the driver wasn't using that night. In addition, Roper had commuted overnight 800 miles from Georgia before picking up his load in Smyrna, Del., and pushed ahead despite having 57 more hours to deliver the load, the board found.
"We hope this investigation helps us discover new ways to prevent such crashes and reinforces ways to improve safety," board chairman Christopher Hart said.
A driver and six passengers were in the limo when the truck hit it. Morgan, a former star of "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock," suffered head trauma, a broken leg and broken ribs. He and others were returning from a show in Dover, Del.
Comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair of Peekskill, N.Y., was killed in the crash.
The safety board found that passengers in the limo van suffered injuries from flailing inside the vehicle after impact because they weren't using seat belts or properly adjusted head restraints. In addition, the van had only one emergency exit, on the passenger side, which became jammed as the van rolled onto the driver's side after the collision, the board found.
Robert Sumwalt, a board member, said first responders arrived at 1:14 a.m., 19 minutes after the 12:55 a.m. crash, and removed the first injured passengers from the van at 1:38 a.m. Responders had trouble getting into the van because of jammed doors and partitions holding electronics, he said.
"I shudder to think what would have happened if this van had caught fire," Sumwalt said.
Among more than a dozen recommendations, the board urged the National Limousine Association to encourage pre-trip safety briefings that would encourage passengers to use seat belts and head rests.
The board also urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to require a second exit on commercial vehicles, either on the front, back or roof of the vehicle.
In May, Morgan and two friends injured in the crash settled a lawsuit against Wal-Mart 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.
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