Truck driver in fatal crash involving comedian Tracy Morgan could avoid jail after guilty plea

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The truck driver who slammed into the back of a van carrying actor-comedian Tracy Morgan and several other people, killing one of them, could avoid jail following his guilty plea.

Kevin Roper was driving a Wal-Mart lorry in June 2014 when he crashed into Morgan's van on the New Jersey Turnpike in the US.

Roper, 37, from Jonesboro, Georgia, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and four counts of aggravated assault when he appeared in court in New Jersey on Tuesday.

Kevin Roper (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media via AP)
Kevin Roper (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media via AP)

He had previously pleaded not guilty to aggravated manslaughter, which is punishable by a prison term of up to 30 years on conviction. Vehicular homicide carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence.

Under the terms of Roper's plea, he can avoid prison and will not have a criminal record if he performs community service and satisfies other conditions over the next three years, according to his lawyer, David Glassman.

"He is grateful for the opportunity to accept responsibility and move forward in doing what is required to obtain a dismissal of the charges pending against him," Glassman told The Associated Press.

Tracy Morgan (Greg Allen/AP)
Tracy Morgan (Greg Allen/AP)

Comedian James McNair died and Morgan and three other passengers were injured in the crash. Morgan suffered a broken leg, broken ribs and head injuries.

The former 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live star made his first public appearance after the accident in June 2015 and attended the Emmys three months later.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc settled separate lawsuits in 2015 brought by Morgan and by McNair's two children.

Kevin Roper talks to lawyer David Glassman (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media via AP)
Kevin Roper talks to lawyer David Glassman (Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media via AP)

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Roper had not slept in the 28 hours before the crash, a finding his lawyer disputed.

The report concluded Roper failed to slow down immediately before the crash despite posted warning signs on the turnpike where construction work was in progress. It found the truck was going 65 mph in a 45 mph zone until about 200 feet before impact.

The board also 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.