By Bruce Konviser and David Jones
NEW BRUNSWICK N.J. (Reuters) – Actor-comedian Tracy Morgan is in critical condition in hospital but was more responsive a day after he was badly hurt in a deadly New Jersey highway crash, his spokesman said on Sunday.
Morgan, who gained fame as a member of the “Saturday Night Live” ensemble before co-starring on the hit NBC television comedy “30 Rock,” was injured when a tractor-trailer rear-ended the limousine bus he was riding in early on Saturday with four other passengers.
Fellow comedian James McNair was killed in the wreck. Two other comics – Ardie Fuqua and Harris Stanton – were also in hospital with severe injuries, while a fifth passenger, Morgan’s assistant, Jeff Millea, was treated for minor injuries and released, police and hospital officials said.
The group was returning from a performance in Delaware at around 1 a.m. when the big rig slammed into the back of their chauffeured Mercedes bus near Cranbury Township, New Jersey, flipping it over.
The impact caused a chain-reaction crash involving a second truck, a sport utility vehicle and two other cars, said New Jersey State Police spokesman Gregory Williams.
McNair, 62, known by his stage name Jimmy Mack, of Peekskill, New York, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to New Jersey State Police. Nobody but the four other passengers from the limo bus were taken to the hospital, authorities said.
Morgan’s spokesman, Lewis Kay, said the 45-year-old performer suffered several injuries, including a broken leg, a broken nose and several broken ribs and had undergone surgery on his injured leg.
“While Tracy remains in critical condition, he has been more responsive today, which is an incredibly encouraging sign,” Kay, said in a statement. “We expect him to remain in the hospital for several weeks. His family is tremendously overwhelmed and appreciative of the outpouring of love and support from his fans.”
Williams said the tractor-trailer rammed into the rear of the limo bus after the truck driver failed to realize in time that the traffic in front of him was slowing down.
The truck driver, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Georgia, turned himself in to authorities and was charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto, a Middlesex County Corrections official said. He was released from jail on Sunday after posting $50,000 bail, the official said. He is expected to face arraignment in New Jersey early this week.
The limo driver, Tyrone Gale, said on Facebook there was nothing he could do to prevent the crash. “I can only say feeling helpless on the highway was very hard to take,” he wrote. “There was nothing I could do but scream at times.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Saturday one of its trucks was the tractor-trailer involved in the collision, which is under investigation by police and the National Transportation Safety Board.
“We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation,” said Bill Simon, chief executive of Walmart U.S.
Morgan, a native New Yorker known for his comedic commentary on racial stereotypes, left the “Saturday Night Live” cast in 2003 after seven years on the show and went on to play a parodied version of himself as the character named Tracy Jordan on “30 Rock” for seven seasons.
He earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding supporting actor for his role on the show, which starred Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, in 2009, the same year his book, “I Am the New Black,” was published.
Morgan has three sons by his previous wife, Sabina Morgan, and is engaged to Megan Wollover, with whom he had a daughter in 2013.
Sabina Morgan told the New York Daily News she and Morgan’s sons were shaken by the accident.
“It’s like I’m in a nightmare,” she said.
Word of the crash prompted an outpouring of sentiment on social media.
“Get better fast … You have most positive thoughts,” tweeted actor and director Henry Winkler.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in New York; Editing by Steve Gorman and Clarence Fernandez)