NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (USA TODAY) — With the rapid click of a crowd of cameras focused on him, a Georgia truck driver, accused of causing a New Jersey Turnpike accident that killed one man and left four others injured, including actor/comedian Tracy Morgan, said little during his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon.
David Glassman, the attorney for Kevin Roper, a Wal-Mart truck driver, entered a plea of not guilty on his client's behalf before Superior Court Judge Bradley Ferencz in New Brunswick, N.J. Roper has been charged with one count of vehicular homicide and assault by auto against four individuals, according to Assistant Prosecutor Sheree Pitchford.
Roper remains out on $50,000 bail, with no 10% down payment. Pitchford asked that the bail be continued but also asked that the court have Roper's correct contact information.
Ferencz told Roper to make sure his lawyer knows exactly where he is.
"Yes sir," Roper said.
Ferencz also told Roper he needs to keep in contact with his attorney if he travels.
"Yes sir," Roper said during the four-minute court proceeding in which media from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as someone reportedly from Peoplemagazine, packed the courtroom.
After the arraignment, Roper and Glassman quickly left the courtroom and courthouse without comment.
Roper, 35 of Jonesboro, Ga., was charged in connection with Saturday's early morning six-vehicle crash in Cranbury Township after the tractor-trailer he was driving allegedly crashed into Morgan's chauffeured limo van.
Under New Jersey law, a person can be charged with assault by auto if he or she causes injury after knowingly operating a vehicle after being awake for more than 24 hours. According to the criminal complaint, Roper was operating the truck "without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours resulting in a motor vehicle accident."
James McNair, 62, of Peekskill, N.Y., Morgan's mentor and a passenger in the 2012 Mercedes limo van was pronounced dead at the scene of the 1:53 a.m. crash. McNair's funeral is scheduled for Thursday.
Four other passengers, including Morgan, were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Morgan, 45, and Jeffrey Millea, 36, of Shelton, Conn., were airlifted to the hospital.
Morgan, a New York City native, suffered broken leg bones, a broken nose and several broken ribs in the crash. He underwent surgery on his leg Sunday but contrary to rumors, it was not amputated, according to his publicist.
Morgan remains in critical but stable condition, according to a statement sent out by his publicist Lewis Kay on Tuesday evening. Kay said there has been no change in Morgan's condition and going forward he would only provide updates when there is new information to share. Kay had previously indicated Morgan is expected to be hospitalized for several weeks.
Morgan, a former 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live cast member, was returning from a comedy show appearance in Delaware when the Mercedes limo bus carrying seven people overturned.
Millea and fellow passenger Ardie Fuqua Jr., a comedian, both remain in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said Peter Haigney, hospital spokesman.
A fifth passenger, comic Harris Stanton, was treated and released. Two others in the limo were unhurt, including the driver, Tyrone Gale.
Police said Roper, driving a Wal-Mart tractor-trailer, apparently failed to notice slow traffic ahead and swerved at the last minute to avoid a crash, but instead crashed into the back of the limo, prompting a chain-reaction crash with a second tractor-trailer, a sport utility vehicle and two cars.
Several turnpike motorists called 911 to report the accident, apparently unaware Morgan was involved. Tapes of the 911 calls were released Tuesday.
Wal-Mart President Bill Simon has said in a statement that the company "will take full responsibility" if authorities determine its truck caused the accident.
For safety reasons, truck drivers are not permitted to drive more than 11 hours per day, and cannot drive after the 14th hour of their shift, according to the American Trucking Association. Drivers also are required to have 10 consecutive hours off duty between shifts, and drivers also cannot work more than 60 hours in any seven-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-day period for companies that operate every day of the week.
Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, and about 1,550 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year in the U.S., and driver fatigue is a leading factor, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Saturday's early morning accident occurred in a congested area of the New Jersey Turnpike where a five-year widening project is expected to finish this year. Two of the three northbound lanes had been closed about a mile ahead of the accident for road work, leading to the traffic slow down, according to turnpike officials.