Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured today after a tractor-trailer rammed into his chauffeured limousine bus, setting off a chain-reaction crash that left one member of his entourage dead and two others seriously hurt, authorities said.
The former Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock cast member was returning from a stand-up comedy show in Delaware when his Mercedes limo bus carrying seven people overturned on the New Jersey Turnpike near Cranbury Township at about 1am, state police Sergeant First Class Greg Williams said.
James McNair, 62, of Peekskill, New York, a passenger in the limo bus, died at the scene, Sgt Williams said. Morgan, 45, and Jeffrey Millea, 37, of Shelton, Connecticut, were flown from the accident scene to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, where they were in critical condition, hospital spokesman Peter Haigney said.
A fourth passenger, comedian Ardie Fuqua Jr., was also in critical condition at the hospital, while a fifth passenger, Harris Stanton, was treated and released, Mr Haigney said. Two others in the limo were unhurt, including the driver.
Morgan remains in the intensive care unit at the hospital.
"His family is now with him and he is receiving excellent care," spokesman Lewis Kay said in a statement. "We don't anticipate much of a change in his condition today but will provide a further update once more information becomes available."
Sgt Williams said the tractor-trailer driver apparently failed to notice slow traffic ahead and swerved at the last minute in a vain attempt to avoid a crash. But the tractor-trailer smashed into the back of the limo, prompting a chain-reaction crash that also involved a second tractor-trailer, an SUV and two cars.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's office said it was investigating and planned to release a statement later today. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was working with state police to look at any issues in the crash related to commercial trucking and limousine safety.
Morgan's limo was owned by Atlantic Transportation Services, which said it had one employee behind the wheel and a second in the front passenger seat.
"Although the investigation is still pending, we concur with the preliminary reports that the accident was caused by another vehicle traveling behind the Atlantic limo bus," the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware-based company said. "We are grateful that our drivers did not sustain life-threatening injuries."
Morgan performed stand-up comedy last night at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. His scheduled appearance at the Fillmore Charlotte in North Carolina tonight was cancelled.
Fuqua had tweeted that he was opening for Morgan last night. On his Instagram page, Fuqua included a collage of photos from the Delaware show.
"This is what it looks like from the stage to see a standing ovation from 1500 people," Fuqua wrote at around midnight last night. "Then we travelled back to NYC in style in a luxury Mercedes Sprinter. Road life is a good life!"
Morgan, a New York City native, joined SNL in 1996 and was on the sketch-comedy programme 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.
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 defence 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 humour.
"My aunt was a crackhead," he told his Brooklyn audience in a recent special aired on cable TV's Comedy Central. "I remember one Christmas she bought me a Game Boy. Then she stole it. Then she helped me look for it."
In recent years, he has struggled with alcoholism and drunken driving arrests. 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.
Truck driver Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was charged with death by auto in connection to the crash and also faces four counts of assault by auto.