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Truck driver in Tracy Morgan crash pleads not guilty

Kevin Roper (center) appeared in state court in New Brunswick on Wednesday to face death by auto and assault by auto charges.

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Kevin Roper (center) appeared in state court in New Brunswick on Wednesday to face death by auto and assault by auto charges.

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — The truck driver charged in the fatal crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that also injured comedian Tracy Morgan and several other people pleaded not guilty at an initial court appearance Wednesday.

Kevin Roper appeared in state Superior Court to face death by auto and assault by auto charges. His bail was kept at $50,000. Roper and his attorney, David Glassman, declined to speak with reporters after the brief hearing.

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Roper was driving a Wal-Mart truck early Saturday when he allegedly swerved to avoid slowed traffic on the turnpike and plowed into Morgan’s limo.

A criminal complaint alleges that the 35-year-old Roper, of Jonesboro, Georgia, hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours before the accident. Wal-Mart has said it believes he was in compliance with federal safety regulations.

A conviction on 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.

The 45-year-old Morgan suffered a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs. His friend and fellow comedian James McNair was killed, and two other passengers were seriously injured. Another passenger was treated and released from the hospital Saturday, and the limo driver and one more passenger weren’t injured.

Morgan underwent surgery for his broken leg and remained in critical but stable condition Tuesday.

State police on Tuesday released audio recordings from three 911 calls made after the accident.

‘‘It’s a terrible accident,’’ a woman tells the dispatcher in one of the calls. ‘‘The car flipped. It’s on its side. It’s two vehicles and a Wal-Mart truck.’’

Citing the criminal investigation, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman wouldn’t say Tuesday where Roper’s trip had originated or where he was headed at the time of the crash. Roper’s New Jersey-based attorney didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

FX Networks issued a statement Tuesday saying Morgan’s new TV series, a half-hour comedy scheduled to start filming in August for a January premiere on the FXX network, would be waiting for him once he’s well.

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