The truck driver charged in the fatal collision that claimed the life of 62-year-old comedian James McNair and left fellow comedian Tracy Morgan, 45, in a critical condition, has pleaded not guilty in an initial court appearance.
Kevin Roper, 35, appeared in state Superior Court on Wednesday to face death by auto and assault by auto charges - his bail was kept at $50,000.
Roper was driving a Wal-Mart truck at about 1am on Saturday 7 June when he allegedly swerved to avoid slowed traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury Township and ploughed into Morgan’s chauffeured Mercedes limousine, causing it to flip over.
A criminal complaint alleges that Roper hadn't slept for more than 24 hours before the accident. Wal-Mart has said it believes he was in compliance with federal safety regulations.
A conviction on a death by auto charge carries a five to 10 year prison sentence. Each assault by auto charge is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
Morgan suffered a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs. Two other passengers were seriously injured and another passenger was treated and released from the hospital Saturday. The limo driver and one more passenger weren't injured.
Morgan underwent surgery for his broken leg and remained in a critical but stable condition on Tuesday.
State police on Tuesday released audio recordings from three 911 calls made after the accident.
“It's a terrible accident,” a woman tells the dispatcher in one of the calls.
“The car flipped. It's on its side. It's two vehicles and a Wal-Mart truck.”
Citing the criminal investigation, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman wouldn't say on Tuesday where Roper's trip had originated or where he was headed at the time of the crash. Roper's New Jersey-based attorney didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
FX Networks issued a statement Tuesday saying Mr Morgan’s new TV series, a half-hour comedy scheduled to start filming in August for a January premiere on the FXX network, would be waiting for him once he's well.
Morgan joined Saturday Night Live in 1996 and was on the sketch-comedy programme for seven years before leaving to star in The Tracy Morgan Show in 2003.
That show lasted just one season. In 2006, Morgan found a long-running role in NBC's hit show 30 Rock, which was created by Tina Fey.
Morgan's films include Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Longest Yard, First Sunday, Rio and Why Stop Now.
Additional reporting by agenciesReuse content