Walmart driver pleads not guilty to auto homicide charges in Jersey crash

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The driver of a Walmart tractor-trailer that was involved in a fatal crash last weekend has entered not guilty pleas to five criminal charges stemming from the wreck.

Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in Middlesex County Superior Court.

Roper faces one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto after he crashed into a limousine van on the New Jersey Turnpike at around 1 a.m. on June 7. The crash left one man, 62-year-old comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, of Peekskill, N.Y., dead. Four other passengers, including actor and comedian Tracy Morgan, were hospitalized. Morgan, the former SNL and “30 Rock” star is listed in critical condition.

The criminal complaint states that Roper had not slept for “a period of in excess of 24 hours,” but the document does not state any additional details as to how investigators arrived at that conclusion.

The National Transportation and Safety Board is working with New Jersey State Police officials to investigate the crash. The agency has learned that Roper was based out of a Walmart distribution center in Delaware but lived in Georgia, according to spokesman Keith Holloway. Holloway said the investigation is in its preliminary stages.

Reports state that Roper’s 2011 Peterbilt tractor-trailer crashed into the van, a 2012 Mercedes Sprinter, while both vehicles were in the northbound lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike. Roper allegedly swerved to avoid crashing into slowed traffic on the turnpike. Four other vehicles were subsequently involved in the crash, but occupants of those vehicles were not injured.

Walmart issued a statement Monday disputing claims that Roper had been working for 24 hours, saying it is the company’s belief that the driver was operating within the federal hours-of-service guidelines. The company has declined to comment on other issues, citing the ongoing investigation.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Walmart tractor-trailers were involved in 375 total crashes in the last three years, despite logging more than 667 million miles per year.

Of the 375 crashes, nine were fatality crashes, 127 were injury crashes, and 239 were tow-away crashes, according to FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System. The DOT reported crash numbers do not take into account fault.

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