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June 19, 2014 12:00 PM, EDT
NTSB Report: Wal-Mart Driver Was Within HOS Limits

The Wal-Mart Stores Inc. driver whose truck crashed into a limousine carrying actor Tracy Morgan was in the 14th hour of a work shift that began the day before, which is within allowable limits, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report also said the driver, 35-year-old Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Georgia, may have been speeding.

FULL REPORT: From NTSB Web site.

Roper had spent June 6 making deliveries and pickups throughout New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, NTSB said. His work shift began at 11:22 a.m. EDT at a Wal-Mart facility in Smyrna, Delaware.

At 12:20 a.m. June 7, Roper left a company location near Bristol, Pennsylvania, en route to Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the safety board said. The crash occurred 30 minutes after leaving. The truck’s electronic log showed Roper had driven 9 hours, 37 minutes, NTSB said. He had been on duty for 13 hours, 32 minutes.  It is approximately 26 miles from Cranbury to Perth Amboy, according to Google Maps.

Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules, truck drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. They may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, after 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.

“The NTSB’s preliminary report cites – using electronic log data – that the driver in this incident was operating within the current hours-of-service limits, a fact ignored by groups seeking to erroneously tie this crash to the suspension of the unjustified restrictions on the use of the 34-hour restart,” said Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs for American Trucking Associations. “The restrictions on the restart raise crash risk and until those risks and other unintended impacts are studied, they should be suspended.”

The preliminary report also said the truck was traveling at 65 mph for the 60 seconds preceding the collision. About four-tenths of a mile south of the crash location on the northbound New Jersey Turnpike, speed limit signs were posted that reduced the speed from 55 mph to 45 mph. Traffic had slowed ahead, the report said, due to construction work on an overhead sign 2.7 miles north of the crash site.

The NTSB will be looking at Roper’s pre-shift commute in its investigation, said a spokeswoman, Kelly Nantel. Roper’s Georgia home is about 750 miles from where he began his work shift. The safety board will examine his actions in the 72 hours before the crash, including how much he rested and what he did while off-duty, Nantel said.

“We’re very interested in learning more about his commute and what impact it may have had on the crash,” Nantel said.

Wal-Mart has declined to comment on its driver’s schedule, citing the pending investigation. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has said he was operating within federal rules.

The 2011 Peterbilt tractor and semi-trailer combination was in the center lane of the New Jersey Turnpike as it approached slowing traffic near a construction site at 12:54 a.m., the NTSB said.

The crash demolished a limousine van carrying actor and comedian Morgan. The van spun and flipped over, killing one of the passengers, comedian James McNair, 62. Morgan, 45, and two others were critically injured. Six other vehicles carrying 16 people were involved in the subsequent impacts, although none of them were hospitalized.

The 51-mile drive between Bristol and Perth Amboy should take 56 minutes, according to Google Maps.