NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — State police said actor and comedian Tracy Morgan is in intensive care after the limousine bus in which he was riding in was involved in a multi-vehicle accident on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Sgt. First Class Greg Williams told The Associated Press that the vehicle carrying the 45-year-old former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” cast member and six others was involved in a six-vehicle accident on the turnpike near Cranbury Township at about 1 a.m. Saturday.
Police said a Walmart tractor-trailer slammed into the back of the limo bus carrying Morgan and others, overturning it and starting the chain reaction accident, CBS 2’s Don Champion reported. The crash also involved a second tractor-trailer, an SUV and two cars.
As CBS 2′ Steve Langford reported, the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to join in the investigation.
The driver of the Walmart truck, 35-year-old Kevin Roper of Jonesboro, Ga., has been charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto, Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said.
Bail was set at $50,000 for Roper, who is expected to surrender, the prosecutor’s office said.
A spokesman at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Center in New Brunswick, N.J. said a patient named Tracy Morgan is in critical condition there.
James McNair, 62, of Peekskill, N.Y., a passenger in the limo bus, died in the crash, Williams said. McNair was a comedian who went by the name “Jimmy Mack,” Langford reported.
Morgan and two other passengers, Ardie Fuqua Jr. and Jeffrey Millea, were in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, hospital spokesman Peter Haigney said.
A fifth passenger, Harris Stanton, was treated there and released, Haigney said.
On Saturday, Morgan’s spokesman Lewis Kay said that the family was not anticipating an immediate change in his condition.
“Tracy remains in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. He sustained these injuries in an accident that occurred early this morning as one of several passengers in a chauffeured SUV returning from a tour date in Delaware. His family is now with him and he is receiving excellent care. We don’t anticipate much of a change in his condition today but will provide a further update once more information becomes available,” Kay said.
Morgan performed comedy standup Friday night at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino in Delaware. His scheduled appearance at the Fillmore Charlotte in North Carolina on Saturday night has been canceled.
The 45-year-old New York City native joined “SNL” in 1996 and was on the sketch-comedy program for seven years before leaving to star in “The Tracy Morgan Show” in 2003. That show lasted just one season. In 2006, Morgan found a long-running role on NBC’s hit show “30 Rock,” which was created by “SNL” co-star Tina Fey. He received an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor for “30 Rock” in 2009.
One of his signature routines on “30 Rock” involved an award category his character invented called an “EGOT,” representing all the entertainment-related awards he hoped to win: an Emmy, a Grammy, and Oscar and a Tony.
Morgan grew up fatherless, one of five siblings, in a blighted section of Brooklyn, where he helped raise and support the family.
He once called his gift for being funny “a defense mechanism” for his miserable circumstances. As a teen, he started doing comedy on the streets to supplement the family’s welfare income.
His tough upbringing informed his humor.
“My aunt was a crackhead,” he told his Brooklyn audience in a recent special aired on Comedy Central. “I remember one Christmas she bought me a Game Boy. Then she stole it. Then she helped me look for it.”
Fans of the comedian were shocked and saddened to hear of his serious injuries in the crash.
“I pray for him that’s all, that’s what we all can do; pray for him and the rest of the people who got involved in the accident,” Ramon Frank told Langford.
Flo from Bridgewater told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller the comedian has given her a lot of laughs over the years.
“’30 Rock,’ Tina Fey — really that’s where I found an endearment to his personality and his humor,” she said.
There was also an outpouring of support from other comedians and celebrities.
Steve Martin tweeted, “Sending best thoughts to Tracy Morgan, injured in an auto accident last night. A real gentleman and hilariously funny.”
“Please pray for everyone involved in this morning’s terrible accident. Keep them in your heart and send love for all the families affected,” tweeted George Lopez.
Russell Simmons wrote on Twitter, “Prayers to all of those involved in the car crash this morning. Stay strong Tracy Morgan. We Love You.”
Joan Rivers posted a picture of her and Morgan on Twitter, saying “My thoughts are with Tracy Morgan and his family. I hope he pulls through this soon and gets back to making us laugh.”
“Sending love and healing to the real Tracy Morgan,” tweeted Bob Saget.
In recent years, he has struggled with alcoholism and has been arrested on drunken driving charges. He had a successful kidney transplant in late 2010.
Morgan’s films include “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” “The Longest Yard,” “First Sunday,” “Rio” and “Why Stop Now.”
Walmart’s U.S. President and CEO Bill Simon released a statement Saturday afternoon.
“We’re praying for the family and friends of the passenger who lost his life in the terrible accident in New Jersey. Our hearts go out to everyone involved and we hope those who were injured get the care that they need and make a full recovery.
“This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.
“The facts are continuing to unfold. If it’s determined that our truck caused the accident, Walmart will take full responsibility.
“Safety is our absolute highest priority, but that is no comfort whatsoever to the families and friends who are suffering today. We offer them our deepest condolences. We can’t change what happened, but we will do what’s right for the family of the victim and the survivors in the days and weeks ahead.”
The New Jersey Turnpike was closed for more than five hours after the crash.
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