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Driver in Tracy Morgan crash had not slept in 24 hours

Kevin Roper had not slept “in excess of 24 hours” when his truck struck a van in New Jersey Saturday, prosecutors said.

Will Vaultz Photography via Associated Press

Kevin Roper had not slept “in excess of 24 hours” when his truck struck a van in New Jersey Saturday, prosecutors said.

NEW YORK — The Walmart driver whose truck collided with a van carrying the comedian Tracy Morgan had not slept for more than 24 hours before the crash, New Jersey prosecutors said Monday.

Prosecutors in Middlesex County charged the truck driver, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., with one count of death by auto and several counts of assault by auto in connection with the pileup Saturday that critically injured Morgan and killed another comedian, James McNair, known as Jimmy Mack, who was also riding in the luxury van.

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In a criminal complaint released Monday, prosecutors said that at the time of the crash Roper had been operating the tractor-trailer “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident.”

Under New Jersey law, a driver can be convicted of vehicular homicide if it is shown that he had been without sleep for that long when the accident occurred.

A preliminary police investigation found that Roper had failed to perceive slow-moving traffic ahead of him, and, at the last minute, swerved in an attempt to avoid a collision. The complaint did not explain how New Jersey State Police determined that Roper had been sleep deprived.

The crash occurred as Morgan, 45, a former cast member of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock,” was traveling to New York from a comedy show in Delaware. Around 1 a.m., a Walmart tractor-trailer collided with the back of the van, a 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, on the northbound New Jersey Turnpike, setting off a chain reaction that involved four other vehicles.

Morgan was in critical but stable condition Monday. His spokesman, Lewis Kay, said he faces an ‘‘arduous’’ recovery after surgery on his broken leg. He sustained a broken femur, a broken nose, and several broken ribs.

After the crash, he and his assistant, Jeff Millea, 36, were airlifted to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. Another comedian, Ardie Fuqua, 43, was also injured.

Federal regulations permit truck drivers to work up to 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours behind the wheel. The other time is usually devoted to loading and unloading and paperwork.

Drivers must have at least 10 hours off between work shifts to sleep. Walmart said it believed Roper was operating within federal regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that it had sent a team of investigators to New Jersey to focus on the larger issue of the safety of commercial truck operators.

The board noted that the number of fatal large truck crashes has steadily risen. In 2012, there were about 333,000 large truck crashes, which resulted in 3,921 deaths and more than 104,000 injuries. Of those killed, about 73 percent were occupants of vehicles other than the large truck.

“The upward trend in crashes, fatalities, and injuries involving large trucks is a cause for concern,” according to the statement, which was prepared by Don Karol, director of the board’s Office of Highway Safety.

Roper’s next appearance in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Jersey is scheduled for Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office said. He was released Saturday after posting $50,000 bail.

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