NEW YORK — A truck driver who caused a New Jersey highway collision that critically injured actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and left another comic dead was charged with death by auto and released on bail, law enforcement said Sunday.
Tracy Morgan, best known for his roles on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”, and two other people traveling with the 45-year-old comic remained in critical condition Sunday at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Zenaida Mendez.
A fourth passenger on the bus, 62-year-old comedian James McNair, known by his stage name Jimmy Mack, of Peekskill, New York, died at the scene, according to New Jersey State Police.
The comics were returning from a performance in Delaware around 1 a.m. Saturday, when a transport truck slammed into the back of their chauffeured Mercedes limo bus near Cranbury Township, New Jersey, flipping it over.
The impact caused a chain reaction crash involving another truck, a sport utility vehicle and two other cars, said New Jersey State Police spokesman Gregory Williams.
“The Peterbilt tractor-trailer was traveling northbound on the turnpike, in the center lane, when the driver failed to recognize traffic was slowing,” Williams said. “When he did notice the Mercedes bus in front of him, he attempted to avoid collision by swerving to the left, but it was too late.”
A fifth passenger in the limo van was lightly injured and released from the hospital. Passengers in the other vehicles were not hurt, Williams said.
The van driver, Tyrone Gale, said on Facebook there was nothing he could do to prevent the crash.
“I can only say feeling helpless on the highway was very hard to take,” he said. “There was nothing I could do but scream at times.”
The driver of the truck, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Georgia, turned himself in to authorities and was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto, a Middlesex County Correction official said.
He was released from jail Sunday after posting $50,000 bail, the official said. He is expected to face arraignment in New Jersey early this week.
State police said the two other injured passengers were comedians Ardie Fuqua and Harris Stanton.
The Mercedes limo bus owner, Atlantic Transportation Services, released a statement of condolences to McNair’s family and the others hurt in the crash.
“Although the investigation is still pending, we concur with the preliminary reports that the accident was caused by another vehicle,” the statement said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Saturday its truck was involved in the collision, which is under investigation by police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
“We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation,” said Bill Simon, chief executive of Wal-mart U.S.
Morgan is one of the best-known black comedians in the United States, using humor to spotlight racial prejudices.
The New York City native spent seven years on “Saturday Night Live” before leaving the cast in 2003. He went on to star in the sitcom “30 Rock” for seven seasons alongside Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.
Morgan has three sons with his first wife, Sabina Morgan and is engaged to Megan Wollover, with whom he had a daughter in 2013.
Sabina Morgan told the New York Daily News that she and Morgan’s sons were shaken by her ex-husband’s accident.
“It’s like I’m in a nightmare,” she said.
Word of the crash prompted an outpouring of sentiment on social media, with other comics and actors tweeting messages of support.
“Get better fast … You have most positive thoughts,” tweeted actor and director Henry Winkler.