3 years later: Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Mack, Walmart and drowsy driving

It was three years ago today that comedians Tracy Morgan, Ardie Faqua, Harris Stanton, and James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, with two other companions, were part of a horrible and fatal highway accident which was later found to be the result of drowsy driving.

The accident killed McNair and critically injured both Fuqua and Morgan. Morgan, in particular, suffered a broken leg, broken ribs, and a traumatic brain injury. Another passenger was also injured, while Stanton and the remaining passenger escaped uninjured.

Today the American Sleep Apnea Association would like to review the events as a reminder to readers that we have much work to do to keep American highways safe from the tragedies that are the outcome of drowsy driving.

What happened on June 7, 2014?

Comedians Morgan, McNair, Fuqua, and Stanton, and two other companions, were traveling northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike just after 1am when their limo bus was rear-ended by a Walmart-operated semi truck.

This caused a chain reaction crash that involved six vehicles in total. McNair, 62, was killed in the crash.

About a month after the accident, suspicions were raised that the driver of the Walmart truck, Kevin Roper, had not slept for 24 hours before the crash.

Is drowsy driving among commercial truckers a problem?

Yes, with plenty of people to hold accountable, from employers and drivers all the way to the federal government.

For some context: The Huffington Post reported just two days after the crash that “Early Saturday morning, a truck driver who reportedly hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours crashed and killed comedian James ‘Jimmy Mack’ McNair. Actor Tracy Morgan was also critically injured. And only a few days before the accident, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to weaken federal trucker fatigue rules and regulations.”

Tracy Morgan: A post-accident timeline

July 2014

Tracy Morgan Sues Walmart Over Fatal Crash (Rolling Stone, July 12, 2014)—”The lawsuit claims that Roper was fatigued at the time of the accident and that ‘Walmart knew or should have known’ that he had been ‘awake for more than 24 consecutive hours’ before the crash. It also said that Roper had commuted 700 miles to a Walmart facility before beginning his shift and that Walmart does not ensure that its workers follow shift limit regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. ‘Walmart not only failed to condemn, but condoned this practice of its drivers routinely violating the F.M.S.C.A. Regulations,’ the suit says.”

August 2014

Family of comedian killed in crash that injured Tracy Morgan to sue Wal-Mart (NJ.com, August 7, 2014)—”McNair was a close friend of Morgan who also wrote for the comic, according to associates. …The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the accident, said the truck driver was speeding and had been working more than 13 consecutive hours. …The board’s preliminary report said Roper, who was operating the tractor-trailer for Wal-Mart, was traveling 65 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour zone before the crash and had logged 13 hours, 32 minutes at the time of the collision.”

September 2014

Walmart: Tracy Morgan Should Have Buckled Up Before Our Truck Hit Him (Gawker, September 29, 2014)—“Morgan’s suit alleged that Walmart negligently allowed truck driver Kevin Roper to work for more than 24 hours without sleeping, resulting in the fatal six-car pileup. In the company’s response, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, it refused to confirm or deny any of the facts of the case, citing an ongoing NTSB investigation. … It did, however, argue that Morgan and three other passengers on his bus ‘acted unreasonably and in disregard of plaintiffs’ own best interests’ by failing to buckle up, making them ineligible to recover damages.”

October 2014

Tracy Morgan’s career could be over (Technology Tell, October 3, 2014)—“After I heard what Walmart said in court, I felt I had to speak out. I can’t believe Walmart is blaming me for an accident that they caused. My friends and I were doing nothing wrong. I want to thank my fans for sticking with me during this difficult time. I love you all. I’m fighting hard every day to get back.”—Tracy Morgan, in reply to Walmart’s attorneys, who denied that the company was responsible for the accident and said the retail chain “doesn’t owe Morgan and his fellow passengers anything because they should have protected themselves by buckling up.”

November 2014

Tracy Morgan’s Attorney Reveals His Rehab Regimen, Talks ‘Severe’ Traumatic Brain Injury (Yahoo! Celebrity, November 24, 2014)—”Roughly one week after it was revealed that (in addition to a broken nose, leg, and ribs) the comedian suffered a brain injury from his June car accident, his lawyer has divulged further details about the type of rehabilitation Morgan is undergoing. … ‘He’s been out of the hospital for a while but he’s busy with cognitive rehabilitation, speech rehabilitation, and physical rehabilitation,’ Benedict Morelli told the Associated Press on Tuesday.”

December 2014

Tracy Morgan Steps Out For First Time Since June Car Accident (Closer, December 5, 2014)—”Tracy Morgan was spotted out in public for the first time since his six-vehicle car accident in June—and it’s clear the star is still on the mend.”

March 2015

Walmart settles with family of comedian killed in Tracy Morgan crash, reports say (NJ.com, March 20, 2015)—”The family of a comedian killed in the NJ Turnpike crash that seriously injured Tracy Morgan have settled with Walmart, according to reports (Curator’s note: In May 2015, the payout was revealed to be $10 million.) … The wrongful death claim of James McNair, 62, was settled out-of-court, CBS New York reports. It is the first settlement in the June 7, 2014 crash when a Walmart rig smashed into a limo with Morgan, McNair and others heading northbound on the interstate.”

May 2015

Tracy Morgan, Walmart Settle Lawsuit Over Highway Accident (Variety, May 28, 2015)—” ‘Walmart and I worked diligently to reach this settlement for the plaintiffs and their families,’ Morgan’s lawyer Benedict Morelli added. ‘Walmart took full responsibility for the accident, which we greatly appreciate.’ “

January 2017

Tracy Morgan ordered to hand over financial documents in Walmart crash settlement (New York Daily News, January 23, 2017)—”In the underlying dispute, Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and Liberty Insurance Underwriters are fighting their obligation to the ‘exorbitant’ cash windfalls promised to Morgan and fellow comedian Ardie Fuqua by the retail behemoth. …The insurers revealed in follow-up filings that 90% of the money paid in crash-related settlements went to Morgan and Fuqua claims. …That suggests the two received at least $90 million together. …The insurance companies now argue Walmart acted too soon and opened its purse strings too wide.”

Morgan recently launched a Netflix special called “Staying Alive” to share his extraordinary experience.

What we can take away from the accident

We can acknowledge drowsy driving is dangerous and refuse to do it

Attention drowsy drivers: Turning up the a/c won’t work (USA Today, July 15, 2014)—” ‘Drowsy driving is the culprit behind more than 100,000 U.S. accidents each year, and 16.5% of deadly ones,’ says Mike Martinez, DMEautomotive’s chief marketing officer. ‘This survey about the ineffective and sometimes wacky things Americans do to fight sleepiness at the wheel should be a real wake-up call.’ ”

We can demand better legislation to prevent drowsy driving

Hastily-Debated Collins Measure Could Put More Tired Truckers on the Road (StreetsBlogUSA, December 9, 2014)— ” ‘Additionally, new research available on the subject demonstrated that long work hours, without sufficient recovery time, lead to reduced sleep and chronic fatigue,’ Foxx wrote. ‘That fatigue leads drivers to have slower reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations quickly.’ He added that drivers often can’t accurately assess their own fatigue.”

We can create new technology to help prevent drowsy driving

New seat belts know when you are driving tired (Geek.com, July 28, 2014)— “his technology would give drivers a warning before their fatigue reaches dangerous levels. This gives you time to go straight home, find somewhere to pull over for a nap, or to switch drivers. … This comes right as drowsy driving is a big topic on the news, as Walmart has just been hit with a major lawsuit with regards to the practice.”