DEKALB COUNTY, Ga - Truck drivers in metro Atlanta told Channel 2 Action News that they were stunned to learn that a local truck driver, charged in a deadly crash that also injured comedian Tracy Morgan, had gone more than 24 hours without sleep.
"It's a big vehicle. You have to stay focused all the time. So I don't know how he did it. 24 hours? I don't get it" said truck driver Evan Lontubu.
According to the criminal complaint, the driver, 35-year-old Kevin Roper of Jonesboro had not slept for "a period in excess of 24 hours" before the crash Saturday on the New Jersey Turnpike. Authorities say Roper lost control of his Walmart tractor trailer truck and slammed in a limo van carry the former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and his entourage.
One of Morgan's friends, comedian James McNair was killed. Three others on board the van were injured. Morgan suffered numerous broken bones and remained in critical condition after surgery Sunday.
Channel 2's Tom Regan went to the Jonesboro address listed as the home of Kevin Roper. No one answered the door. Neighbors said they saw little of the driver but heard of the weekend chain collision crash that he is accused of causing.
"I'm sorry that it had to happen. My prayers are with Tracy Morgan and with him (Roper) also," said resident Barry Brabham.
The Georgia State Patrol said its officers enforce strict federal rules on how long truck drivers can operate behind the wheel to reduce the likelihood of a sleep-deprived crash.
"They are allowed 11 hours of drive time, 14 hours total on duty time. And they're required to take a 10-hour rest break. You're looking at an 80,000 pound vehicle traveling 65 miles per hour. It takes an extremely long distance for that vehicle to stop," said Georgia State Patrol Lt. Brent Moore.
Roper was charged in the crash and has been released on bond. Walmart issued a statement saying:
“With regards to news reports that suggest Mr. Roper was working for 24 hours, it is our belief that Mr. Roper was operating within the federal hours of service regulations. The details are the subject of the ongoing investigation and we are cooperating fully with the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The investigation is ongoing and unfortunately we can’t comment further on the specifics.
Federal law requires drivers to work no more than 14 hours for any shift and 11 hours of driving.”
A representative of the comedian said he was responsive after surgery and will likely remain in a hospital for several weeks.