The Walmart truck driver at the center of the media frenzy over a crash that severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan pleaded not guilty to charges on Wednesday.
Kevin Roper and his attorney left the courthouse in New Brunswick, N.J., without talking to reporters. Roper was charged by police with one count of vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto, following the early Saturday morning crash where he struck a chauffeured limo van in which Morgan and four others were riding.
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.
Roper remains free on $50,000 bail. His next court appearance has yet to be scheduled.
One occupant died in the accident, while others suffered no injuries or have since been treated for injuries and released. Morgan remains hospitalized in critical condition and is not expected to be released for several weeks.
Police claim Roper had been awake for more than 24 hours before the crash, but they haven’t said how they made such a determination. Under New Jersey law, 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.
In a Twitter feed purportedly by Roper, he claims he had not been awake and is being made a scapegoat due to Morgan’s celebrity.
Police say Roper failed to notice traffic was backed up before the crash. While swerving to miss it, he stuck the limo van carrying Morgan and his entourage and triggered a six-vehicle pileup.
Soon after the crash Walmart said it would take full responsibility for the crash if it is proved its truck was the cause.
The crash has thrust the trucking industry into the national spotlight with debate over fatigued driving and driver hours of service rules. The incident has also been exploited by both opponents and supporters of a move in Congress to suspend the 34-hour restart provision of the driver hours of service regulations that went into effect last year.
Supporters of the suspension say the new restrictions on the 34-hour restart are inflexible and lead to more dangerous highways. Opponents of suspending it claim it will lead to more driver hours behind the wheel and more truck involved crashes.
Read more about Kevin Roper’s plea from NJ.com as well as from MyCentralJersey.com.
New Jersey State Police release the audio tapes of the 911 calls describing the crash that killed one person and injured others, including comedian Tracy Morgan: