A Walmart official denied claims that the truck driver involved in a crash that critically injured actor Tracy Morgan was working for 24 hours.
According to a criminal complaint, Kevin Roper, 35, had not slept for at least 24 hours when he slammed his big rig into the back of a limo bus carrying Morgan and six others, killing one and critically injuring several passengers.
David Tovar, Vice President of Communications for Walmart, released the following statement regarding the allegation.
"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."
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State Police said Roper did not see slow moving traffic ahead of him in the northbound lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike in Cranbury, N.J. on Saturday morning until the last minute. The driver swerved his 2011 Peterbilt truck to avoid the traffic, but still hit the Mercedes Sprinter limo carrying Morgan and his friends. The collision spun the limo, caused it to flip and hit four other vehicles.
Morgan was critically hurt and had to be flown to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. Lewis Kay, a representative for the "SNL" and "30 Rock" star, said Morgan underwent surgery for a broken leg and was "more responsive" on Sunday. He also has a broken femur, nose and ribs. He is expected to remain in the hospital for several weeks, Kay said.
Fellow passengers Jeffrey Millea and Ardie Fuqua, Jr. were also critically injured in the crash and remain hospitalized. Harris Stanton, another passenger, was treated and released on Sunday.
Comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair, 69, was killed in the crash.
Roper, a Georgia native, has been charged with Death by Auto and four counts of Assault by Driving. He turned himself into state police on Saturday and was released on $50,000 bail.
Investigators have not said if Roper fell asleep behind the wheel, but cited the prolonged sleep deprivation as a factor in the charges against him.
Studies have found drowsy driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk. A driver who stays awake for about 24 hours is as impaired as a person with a 0.10 percent blood alcohol level, according to studies cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's legally drunk in all 50 U.S. states.
Truck drivers are limited to 11 hours behind the wheel over the course of a 14 hour long shift, federal regulations state. Drivers are barred from spending more than 70 hours on the road unless they take extra breaks and are required to pull over when they feel drowsy.
Commercial drivers, like Roper, are also required to keep a log book of his driving status detailing when he was driving, sleeping and on break.
U.S. Department of Transportation data showed that out of more than 5,600 inspections, Walmart had only 18 violations related to hours of service on the road. Walmart has said if its driver is found to be at fault, the company would take full responsibility for the crash.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office is leading the investigation with help from New Jersey State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board. Three NTSB investigators are on the ground around the scene and will be focusing on broader commercial trucking issues like truck maintenance and driver fitness.
Roper was set to be arraigned in a Middlesex County, N.J. court on Monday, but the hearing was postponed to Wednesday at 3 p.m.
PHOTO: Kevin Roper is charged in the fatal crash that injured actor Tracy Morgan and six others.