Walmart Driver Kevin Roper Charged with Vehicular Homicide and Assault by Auto
On June 7, 2014, Walmart truck driver Kevin Roper slammed into the Limo tour bus carrying comedian Tracy Morgan after failing to slow down for traffic ahead. Roper allegedly swerved the truck on the New Jersey Turnpike to avoid a crash and then smashed into the back of the Limo bus. The bus landed on its roof, and four other vehicles crashed into the touring bus. Bus occupant James McNair was pronounced dead on the scene.
According to New Jersey State Police Sergeant Williams, the truck driver from Jonesboro in Georgia did not notice the slowing traffic ahead and tried to avoid a crash at the last minute by swerving the 18-wheeler. The large Walmart truck crashed into the back of Tracy Morgan’s limousine touring bus. The accident happened near Cranbury Township at approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday.
A Walmart spokeswoman said on Monday, June 9th, that the company installed systems designed to notify a driver of stopped traffic ahead and to slow the truck’s speed on all their trucks. Whether the system was working at the time of the accident has not been confirmed yet. Brooke Buchanan, Walmart spokeswoman, also said that Kevin Roper, who was driving the truck at the time of the accident, was not a contract employee, but a company driver.
The prosecutors who investigated the wreck claim that Kevin Roper was operating the truck without having slept for more than 24 hours before the accident. It is also speculated that the driver fell asleep when he crashed into the bus. It is unclear how the investigating officers determined the driver’s lack of sleep. A truck driver can be convicted for five to ten years under the New Jersey law if there is proof that he was sleep-deprived when the trucking accident occurred.
The Walmart truck driver has been charged with four counts of assault by auto and one count death by auto. A truck driver can be charged under New Jersey law if he caused injury while operating a vehicle after being awake for more than twenty-four hours. In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations also provide strict guidelines regarding hours of service by commercial motor vehicle drivers.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Walmart has over 7,100 drivers and more than 6,180 trucks. The company’s trucks were involved in 380 crashes in the past 24 months, causing 129 injuries and nine deaths. Walmart is the fourth largest private transporter in the United States.
The Associated Press found that driver fatigue is one of the leading causes for fatal crashes involving trucks. More than 4,000 people die in these crashes each year.
Walmart Alleges Safety is its Highest Priority
Walmart stated in an email that the company considered safety as the highest priority and believe that the driver was operating within federal regulations. Truck drivers are permitted to work up to fourteen hours a day, of which eleven hours are permitted behind the wheel.
Vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Henry Jasny, commented that having tired truck drivers is part of a systemic problem. However, vice president of the American Trucking Association, Mr. Dave Osiecki, says there are no regulations preventing truck drivers from making bad choices.
Is Walmart Liable for its Driver’s Conduct?
Under the principle of “Respondeat superior” the company is responsible for the driver’s wrongful acts, providing the acts were committed within the scope of employment and unintentional. Companies are usually not liable if the wrongful acts were committed by independent contractors. “Within the scope of employment” involves incidental acts a company should expect, place and nature of the person’s conduct and the type of work he or she was hired to do. Walmart did say the company will take full responsibility if their truck caused the accident. Walmart stated, “Their truck” and not “their driver.” It is not easy to determine who is legally liable for the accident caused by Walmart’s truck driver.
This is another example of Walmart failing to take responsibility and placing profits ahead of people. Walmart will likely be sued for negligence, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent retention, and a myriad of other charges. Walmart should not be allowed to cause 129 injuries and 9 deaths in a two year period.
Walmart’s Driver Pleaded Not Guilty
Truck driver Kevin Roper appeared in court on the 11th of June, 2014, before Judge Bradley Ferencz at Superior Court Middlesex County in New Jersey. Defense lawyer David Glassman told the court that the defense was pleading not guilty. Roper was released on a $50,000 bond. The judge warned the defendant and said he should at all times notify his lawyer of his whereabouts. Kevin Roper did not say much in court but was clear that he understood exactly what the judge was telling him.
Walmart said they are cooperating with the law enforcement agencies and the ongoing investigation.