Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan is in intensive care following a six-vehicle crash along the New Jersey Turnpike that left one person dead and at least two others seriously hurt, state police say.
The 45-year-old former "Saturday Night Live" star, stand-up comedians Ardie Fuqua Jr. and Harris Stanton, and several other passengers were traveling north along the highway in a limo bus around 1 a.m. Saturday when a Walmart tractor trailer struck the limo bus, causing it to overturn, New Jersey State Police confirm.
The tractor-trailer driver, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., was charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto, Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release.
Roper surrendered to authorities late Saturday afternoon and was transported to the Middlesex County jail, where he is being held on $50,000 bail, according to New Jersey State Police.
Evan Agostini / AP file
Actor Tracy Morgan in 2008
The crash, which happened about 15 miles north of Trenton near Exit 8A of the Turnpike in Cranbury, N.J., killed 62-year-old James McNair of Peekskill, New York and put Morgan and two others in critical condition.
Some early reports indicated the tractor trailer driver was sleeping at the wheel, but New Jersey State Police say there is nothing to suggest he dozed off.
"There is nothing that indicates that," said New Jersey State Police Sgt. First Class Gregory Williams. "There is no documentation that agrees with that."
Walmart U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon expressed his condolences for the crash victims and their families in a statement to the press.
"This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved," Simon said. "We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation."
"The facts are continuing to unfold," he continued. "If it's determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility."
A preliminary state police investigation found that the tractor trailer came upon slow moving traffic and slammed into the limo.
"The driver of the tractor trailer ...failed to observe the slow moving traffic ahead of him," Williams said. "The driver did observe the traffic, but it was too late. It was just prior to impact, he swerved to the left in an attempt to avoid the collision. But he was unable to."
The black Mercedes limo bus rotated clockwise, overturned on its left side and crashed into several other vehicles, he said. Six vehicles in all -- two tractor trailers, the limo bus, an SUV and two cars -- were involved.
The crash was so severe, part of the limo's rear driver side was ripped away.
The "30 Rock" actor was flown from the scene to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. He is in intensive care.
Morgan's representative, Lewis Kay, tells NBC News the actor is expected to remain in critical condition for the time being.
"His family is now with him and he is receiving excellent care. We don't anticipate much of a change in his condition today but will provide a further update once more information becomes available," Kay said.
James McNair, a 62-year-old of Peekskill, New York, was killed in the crash, according to state police. The Associated Press is reporting that 37-year-old Jeffrey Millea of Shelton, Conn. was also flown from the crash to Robert Wood Johson Hospital, where he is in critical condition. A hospital spokesman told the AP that Fuqua is also in critical condition, while Stanton has been treated and released.
All of the injured were on the limo bus.
One of the two drivers in the limo bus, 44-year-old Tyrone Gail of Rehobeth, Del., was visibly shaken while exiting Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Del.
Gail expressed his condolences for everyone involved in the accident before becoming overwhelmed by emotion and ending the interview.
Christopher Thompson, co-owner of limo operator Atlantic Transportation Services, said the eight passenger limo bus had another driver besides Gail on board. One was behind the wheel and another in the front passenger seat.
The second driver also suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was shaken up by the crash, Thompson said.
"Atlantic Transportation Services extends our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those injured in last night's accident. We also give our sincerest condolences to the family and loved ones of the one individual that passed," he said in a written statement. "This is a very difficult time and we appreciate all of the support and well wishes we have received thus far, and we ask that everyone pray for the recovery of those injured. Godspeed to all involved."
Morgan had a scheduled performance at Dover Downs Casino in Dover, Delaware, on Friday night. That's about 120 miles south of the crash point. The bus was chartered by the casino, according to Thompson.
Fuqua posted a photo to Instagram around midnight showing Morgan in front of a crowd. His Facebook page said he was opening for Morgan.
"This is what it looks like from the stage to see a standing ovation from 1,500 people," the photo's caption read. "Then we traveled back to NYC in style in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter. Road life is a good life!"
A New York City native, Morgan started as a cast member on "SNL" in 1996 and spent seven years on the show. He later had his own show, "The Tracy Morgan Show," which lasted for just a season. In 2006, he portrayed the role of Tracy Jordan in the hit NBC comedy "30 Rock," created by "SNL" co-star Tina Fey.
Morgan grew up fatherless, one of five siblings, in a blighted section of Brooklyn, where he helped raise and support the family.
He once called his gift for being funny "a defense mechanism" for his miserable circumstances. As a teen, he started doing comedy on the streets to supplement the family's welfare income.
In recent years, he has struggled with alcoholism and has been arrested on drunken driving charges. He had a successful kidney transplant in late 2010.
The Turnpike was closed for more than five hours as officials investigated the crash. The highway was reopened around 6:30 a.m.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office will lead the investigation into the crash and the New Jersey State Police and National Transportation Safety Board are assisting. An NTSB spokesperson said the agency planned to send investigators to the crash scene Saturday evening or Sunday to focus on safety issues related to the trucks and limo.
First published June 7 2014, 3:39 AM