The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has blamed a fatigued Wal-Mart truck driver for the highway crash last year that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed one of his friends. The board did say, however, that the failure of Morgan and other passengers riding in a limousine-van to wear seatbelts and adjusted headrests contributed to the severity of injuries when the limo was struck from the rear by the truck. Investigators said that the truck driver, Kevin Roper, could have prevented the June 7, 2014, crash if he had slowed to 45 mph, the posted speed limit for the construction work zone on the New Jersey Turnpike where the crash occurred.
The investigators reported that the Wal-Mart truck was traveling at 65 mph and was slow to react to a sign lowering the speed limit to 45 mph in a construction zone. The truck was said to have been traveling at a rate of speed of 47 to 53 mph when it hit the limousine. Federal accident investigators had said during the hearing that the turnpike crash raised significant safety issues involving driver fatigue and truck safety. The truck driver had been awake for the previous 28 hours, board investigators said at the meeting held to determine the cause of the crash and to make safety recommendations.
Investigators said that when the truck struck the rear of the limo, it caused a chain reaction crash that affected 21 people in six vehicles. One tragic aspect of roadway deaths is that so often they could have been prevented,” said NTSB Chairman Chris Hart. Roper had driven more than 800 miles from Georgia to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Delaware to pick up a load before starting the trip. He had worked for Wal-Mart for 15 weeks and had had nine “critical event reports,” causing him to lose his safety bonus, according to investigators. Critical event reports, which are generated by a truck’s computers and downloaded by Wal-Mart, record things like hard-braking, activation of the vehicle’s stability control system, or other events that might indicate unsafe driving.
Investigators also said the limousine-van wound up on its side after the crash with its rear doors jammed shut. A sheet of plywood that had been added to the limo to separate the cab from passengers blocked occupants from escaping the vehicle through the front doors after the crash. It took emergency responders working with the assistance of other motorists 37 minutes to remove the first of the crash victims from the rear of the limo. Neither the passengers in the back of the 10-seat limo nor the driver were wearing seatbelts.
Morgan suffered head trauma, a broken leg and broken ribs, and was in a coma for two weeks. Three other passengers in the limo suffered serious injuries. Morgan, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star, and the others were returning from a show in Dover, Del. Roper was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto in state court in New Jersey. The criminal complaint alleged Roper operated the truck “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident.” A person can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours under New Jersey law.
The safety board has long raised concerns about operator fatigue leading to accidents across all modes of transportation, from airline pilots to train engineers. In May, Morgan and two friends injured in the crash settled a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for an undisclosed amount. While there are a huge number of highway collisions each year where driver fatigue played a major role in causing the crashes, this incident received a great deal of media attention because Morgan was a victim. That put the driver fatigue problem in the limelight and has helped make the public much more aware of the magnitude of the problem.
Source: Claims Journal
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