Why are criminal charges so rare when drivers and trucking companies break the law?
As an early Christmas present to Tracy Morgan, the Wal-Mart driver who severely injured the comedian and killed his close friend was indicted yesterday.
The driver was severely sleep-deprived and speeding at the time of the June 7, 2014 crash. Before beginning his long-haul shift, Kevin Roper drove 700 miles from his home in Georgia to report to a Delaware Wal-Mart.
Roper raced along the NJ highway at 65 mph in a 45 mph zone moments before the crash. He also failed to heed multiple warnings about construction lane closures and resulting slow moving traffic ahead. Having been awake for 28 hours, Roper could not react in time to avoid hitting Morgan’s limousine.
The devastating 18-wheeler accident did not result from a mistake, bad conditions or any other unavoidable cause. The collision was entirely preventable, except for the criminal conduct of the driver and his employer.
That a driver faces criminal consequences is very rare. People are injured and killed daily by negligent truck drivers who ignore speeding, distracted driving and hours of service laws, but drivers typically get a light reprimand and the company a small fine. Drivers and trucking corporations face no real consequences when the victims are less famous than the well-regarded Tracy Morgan.
Why Hasn’t Wal-Mart Been Criminally Charged?
The driver faces a lengthy prison sentence if convicted of aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide or aggravated assault. However Wal-Mart remains free from criminal liability and will never be held accountable.
The largest retailer in the world settled lawsuits with Morgan and Roper’s family. At one point, the company tried to shift blame onto the victims for not wearing their seat belts — which is both legal and normal for passengers in a limousine. For this expansive retailer, the settlement money paid by its insurance company was just the cost of doing business. Wal-Mart needs to face real criminal consequences for its part in this tragedy.
The Wal-Mart supervisors knew Roper lived in Georgia but nonetheless demanded he report to the Delaware location rather than one of the numerous Wal-Marts closer to his home. In addition, the company’s inflexible policies encouraged drivers to forgo sleep before taking a Wal-Mart truck on the road.
Of course, the driver is personally responsible for obeying the law. Roper could have and should have just said no. As his employer, however, Wal-Mart was in a much better position to adhere to the HOS rules. Instead Wal-Mart put its profits ahead of people’s lives.