NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The truck driver who slammed into the back of a van carrying actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and several other people, killing one of them, pleaded guilty Tuesday and could avoid jail time.
Kevin Roper entered the plea in state Superior Court to vehicular homicide and four counts of aggravated assault.
Roper was driving a Wal-Mart truck in June 2014 when he crashed into Morgan’s van on the New Jersey Turnpike. The group was returning from Morgan’s show in Delaware.
The 37-year-old Jonesboro, Georgia, resident had also faced an aggravated manslaughter count, which is punishable by a 10-to-30-year prison term on conviction. Vehicular homicide carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence.
Under terms of Roper’s plea, he can avoid prison and won’t have a criminal record if he performs community service and satisfies other conditions over the next three years, according to his attorney, David Glassman.
“He is grateful for the opportunity to accept responsibility and move forward in doing what is required to obtain a dismissal of the charges pending against him,” Glassman said in an email to The Associated Press.
Comedian James McNair died and Morgan and three other passengers were injured in the crash. Morgan suffered a broken leg, broken ribs and head injuries.
The former “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star made his first public appearance after the accident in June 2015 and made a surprise appearance at the Emmys three months later.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. settled separate lawsuits in 2015 brought by Morgan and by McNair’s two children.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Roper hadn’t slept in the 28 hours before the crash, a finding his attorney disputed.
The report concluded Roper failed to slow down immediately before the crash despite posted warning signs on the turnpike where construction work was in progress. It found the truck was going 65 mph in a 45 mph zone until about 200 feet before impact.
The board also faulted Morgan and other passengers in the limo van for not wearing seat belts and for adjusting headrests, which it said contributed to the severity of their injuries when the limo was struck from behind.