Actor Morgan critical after pile-up
US actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and two members of his entourage are in critical condition, a day after a tractor-trailer rammed into his chauffeured limousine bus, setting off a deadly chain-reaction pile-up.
The former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock cast member was returning from a standup comedy show in Delaware early on Saturday with six others when the limo bus overturned on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranberry Township, killing Morgan's mentor and fellow comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair.
A Wal-Mart truck driver was charged with death by vehicle and four counts of assault by vehicle.
Jeffrey Millea, 36, of Shelton, Connecticut, and comedian Ardie Fuqua Jr, 43, of Jersey City, were listed in critical condition with Morgan at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Zenaida Mendez said. Another comedian, Harris Stanton, was treated and released.
The truck driver, 35-year-old Kevin Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia, apparently failed to slow for traffic ahead and swerved at the last minute to avoid a crash, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's office said.
Instead, the big rig smashed into the back of the Mercedes limo bus, prompting a chain-reaction crash with a second tractor-trailer, an SUV and two cars, authorities said. No one in the other vehicles was injured.
So far, there is nothing to suggest Roper fell asleep or was dozing, state police Sgt Greg Williams told The Associated Press.
Roper, accompanied by his lawyer, turned himself in to state police. He was released on 50,000 dollars (£29,800) bail on Saturday night, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said.
Wal-Mart President Bill Simon said in a statement that the company "will take full responsibility" if authorities determine its truck caused the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was working with state police to look at any issues in the crash related to commercial trucking and limousine safety.
Tyrone Gale, who was driving the limo bus, told ABC News that he was disoriented after the vehicle flipped and could hear Morgan yelling for help.
"I climbed around and heard Tracy screaming for help," Gale said. "I climbed up on the body of the limo bus ... but I couldn't reach them."
Morgan's limo was owned by Atlantic Transportation Services, which said it had one employee behind the wheel and a second in the front passenger seat. Neither was injured.
"Although the investigation is still pending, we concur with the preliminary reports that the accident was caused by another vehicle traveling behind the Atlantic limo bus," the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware-based company said.
Fuqua had tweeted that he was opening for Morgan on Friday night at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware. On his Instagram page, Fuqua included a collage of photos from the show.
"This is what it looks like from the stage to see a standing ovation from 1,500 people," Fuqua wrote at around midnight Friday. "Then we travelled back to NYC in style in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter. Road life is a good life!"
Fuqua's mother, Doris, said she visited him in the hospital. The writer-comedian had toured with Morgan for nearly a year, she said.
"We're hoping for the best," Doris Fuqua said, adding that she didn't know how long he may be in hospital. "It's too early to tell."
McNair, 62, of Peekskill, New York, was a close friend and mentor to Morgan, Morgan's ex-wife, Sabina Morgan, told the New York Daily News. "He was one of the first comedians that took Tracy under his wing," she said. "They were very close."
Royale Watkins, a Los Angeles-based comedian who said he had performed in New York clubs with Morgan and McNair, described McNair as having a big personality.
"There may be guys like Tracy who get the fame and notoriety, but you have people like Jimmy Mack who have kind of energised and fuelled cats like Tracy and kept them going on the road," Watkins said.
Morgan, a New York City native, joined SNL in 1996 and left to star in The Tracy Morgan Show in 2003. That show lasted just one season. In 2006, Morgan found a long-running role on NBC's comedy 30 Rock, which was created by SNL co-star Tina Fey. He received an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor for 30 Rock in 2009.