NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — A grand jury on Wednesday indicted a truck driver accused of crashing into a limo van last year on the New Jersey Turnpike, injuring comedian Tracy Morgan and killing one of his comic friends.
The grand jury charged Kevin Roper with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree vehicular homicide and third-degree aggravated assault in the June 2014 crash.
Roper’s attorney, David Glassman, was in court Tuesday arguing to have the initial charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto thrown out because of adverse publicity surrounding Morgan’s settlement of a lawsuit with Wal-Mart earlier this year.
A judge tentatively set a date for early January to revisit the issue. Glassman said in an email Wednesday that the timing of the hearing would depend on how quickly he could review the grand jury transcripts.
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Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was driving a Wal-Mart truck when the crash occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was not in court Wednesday, and an arraignment will be scheduled at a later date, said a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
The crash killed comedian James McNair and seriously injured Morgan and others. Morgan, a former “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star, suffered brain trauma, broken ribs and a broken leg.
Glassman said he wasn’t surprised by the indictment after 18 months of negative pretrial publicity, the settlement, Wal-Mart admitting “full responsibility before anyone walked into a courtroom” and the prosecutor permitting the National Transportation Safety Board “to pronounce (Roper) guilty in a public hearing.”
“The real question is whether the Prosecutor will be surprised in the event it is dismissed, for all the reasons set forth above,” Glassman wrote in an email.
Glassman said last week that he faulted the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office for not stepping in and seeking a stay in the federal lawsuit.
Aggravated manslaughter carries a 10-to-30-year prison term upon conviction, while a death-by-auto charge carries a five-to-10-year prison sentence. Each assault-by-auto charge is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
An NTSB investigation concluded in August that Roper hadn’t slept in the 28 hours before the crash, a finding Glassman has disputed.
The report concluded Roper failed to slow down immediately before the crash despite posted warning signs on the turnpike.
The board 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.