Findings of Morgan Crash Don't Just Blame the Truck Driverby Jana Ritter - Published: 8/12/2015
After nonstop coverage of the crash that severely injured celebrity Tracy Morgan and killed fellow comedian James McNair in June of 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board finally revealed the findings of their investigation at a public hearing on Tuesday. They ruled the Wal-Mart truck driver’s fatigue as the chief cause of the crash, but also said that unused seatbelts and the poorly trained emergency responders exacerbated the injuries. The investigators also pointed out that the customized limousine left the six passengers without any available exits and forced the emergency responders to cut out part of a plywood panel that had been installed between the passenger compartment and the cab, which delayed medical attention.
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“Their single means of exiting had become inoperable in the crash,” Christopher Hart the board chairman said at Tuesday’s Washington hearing. The officials also said even if that sliding door had worked, it was above passengers’ heads after the accident caused the van to flip onto its side. If the vehicle had caught fire, the passengers would have been trapped and basically burned alive.
Still, officials found truck driver, Kevin Roper, to be the root cause of the accident as he had been traveling 65 miles per hour in a 45 mph construction zone and failed to slow down as he approached the backed up traffic. He rear ended the van and set off the deadly chain reaction. While Wal-Mart has since settled wrongful death suits with Morgan and the victims’ families, Kevin Roper is still awaiting trial on criminal charges of vehicular homicide and assault by auto. Investigators also ruled that fatigued driving and violating the HOS rules were also factors likely contributing to the truck driver’s failure to respond when approaching the construction zone. At the time of the crash, he had been awake for more than 28 hours and had already driven 800 miles overnight from his home in Georgia to a Wal-Mart distribution center in Delaware, where he began the delivery.
However, officials didn’t solely blame the truck driver for what resulted in McNair’s death and Morgan’s severe brain injuries. They said that the outcome was also due to a lack of training with the medical response team. According to safety board investigator, Thomas Barth, the medical workers initially “failed to recognize how serious the situation was and how many severely injured occupants” were in the van. By the time more highly trained medical workers arrived, “they were overwhelmed,” because “they didn’t have enough resources on hand,” Dr. Barth explained. It took an entire 40 minutes for responders to extricate the passengers, which is a crucial amount of time lost in a situation requiring urgent medical attention.
Investigators concluded that the incident revealed communication problems between medical teams dispatched from different jurisdictions, with different levels of experience. They board suggested that New Jersey set uniform training standards for groups that provide emergency medical service on the turnpike.