Clackamas County, OR- Kevin Roper, the truck driver who is accused of causing the fatal New Jersey Turnpike accident that left comedian Tracy Morgan in critical condition, pleaded not guilty to multiple charges Wednesday as the NTSB launched an investigation into his long commute.
Roper was charged with count of death by auto and four counts of injury by auto. If convicted of the charges he could face significant jail time; the death by auto charge carries a penalty of 5 to 10 years in jail and the injury by auto charges carry a penalty of 18 months in jail for each charge.
The criminal complaint against Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, alleges he had been awake for 24 hours prior to plowing into the limousine bus carrying the 30 Rock star and fellow comedians early Sunday morning, though police have not said how they made that determination.
Comedian and writer James McNair died on the scene and Tracy Morgan along with three other victims sustained critical injuries. Morgan suffered a broken nose, femur and several broken ribs and will be in the hospital for several weeks.
Roper, who left the New Brunswick, New Jersey, courthouse with his attorney, refused to speak to the throngs of reporters that crowded around him after they asked him if he made statements about the accident via Twitter.
After the crash, several statements were made on a Twitter account with Roper’s name and picture which said he was being scapegoated because he hit a celebrity and called the criminal charges “complete BS.” He also denied being awake for 24 hours.
The National Traffic Safety Board is currently looking into whether Roper’s driving route played a factor in the crash. Although Roper lives in Georgia, his job is based out of Delaware, according to the Huffington Post.
This accident raises a number of concerns about trucking safety. Just days before the accident a Senate Appropriations Committee voted to suspend the 34 hour reset rule which requires drivers to have a 34 hour rest period before they begin a new work week. The rest period must also include two driving shifts between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Whether or not Congress will vote to suspend the reset rule remains to be scene, but given their approval rating and the media frenzy over the truck accident, legislators may decide to abandon the rule suspension for the time being.
In Oregon, fatigue is a primary factor in truck accidents but drivers are often forced to work long shifts because of the way they are paid by the job and not the hour. They also face immense pressure from their employer to get their shipments to their destination on time. This is an issue that needs to be addressed before we demonize truck drivers.
As this accident shows, a truck accident can be devastating for the victims or their surviving family members. The medical costs these victims face will be exorbitant but they won’t have the bear the burden of those costs on their own when they hire a Clackamas County truck accident attorney to build a personal injury or wrongful death suit on their behalf.