Judge rejects Walmart driver's motion to halt Tracy Morgan civil suit

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | Friday, December 12, 2014

A federal judge has ruled that the civil suit brought by Tracy Morgan and other victims in a fatal crash last June involving a Walmart tractor-trailer may proceed concurrently with a criminal case stemming from the same crash.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp refused to halt the lawsuit brought by Morgan and others who were seriously injured in the June 7 crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. The plaintiffs are suing Walmart for damages after sustaining “severe painful bodily injuries” including multiple fractures requiring multiple surgeries, extensive medical treatment, and significant physical rehabilitation. One other passenger, comedian James McNair, was killed in the crash.

The civil suit also alleges that the 35-year-old truck driver, Kevin Roper, fell asleep behind the wheel while driving, and that the collision avoidance technology installed in the truck failed to automatically engage the brakes.

Attorneys for Roper, who is not a named party to the civil suit and who is facing one count of vehicular homicide and four counts of assault by auto in New Jersey State Court, filed a petition last month to have the civil suit halted pending the outcome of the criminal case.

In his ruling, the judge stated that Roper’s petition did not demonstrate “emergent relief” at least in part because it was filed some five months after the lawsuit, undermining his claim of “immediate and irreparable harm.”

Roper’s attorney, David J. Glassman, asked for a stay of discovery in the civil case, arguing that allowing the plaintiffs’ attorneys to interview his client during the discovery portion of the case could jeopardize his client’s rights in the criminal proceedings and would violate his rights under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

Although not a named party in the civil suit, allegations of improper actions on Roper’s part are found in the civil complaint.

The other three plaintiffs in the suit are comedian Ardley Fuqua Jr.; Morgan’s personal assistant, Jeffrey Millea; and Millea’s wife, Krista. Fuqua and Jeffrey Millea were passengers in the van when it crashed.

The lawsuit alleges that Roper commuted from his home in Jonesboro, Ga., roughly 750 miles from the Walmart distribution center in Smyrna, Del., before starting his work shift on the morning of Friday, June 6, approximately 13 and a half hours before the crash. A criminal complaint filed by the Middlesex County prosecutor 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.

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