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Tracy Morgan crash fuels debate over tired truckers

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WASHINGTON (AP) – A New Jersey highway crash that severely injured Tracy Morgan and killed another comedian is drawing attention to the dangers of tired truckers just as the industry and its allies in Congress are poised to roll back safety rules on drivers’ work schedules.

The proposed change is backed by the trucking industry and opposed by safety advocates and the Obama administration. It would effectively let truck drivers put in as many as 82 hours a week behind the wheel. The change was recently added to a transportation spending bill in the Senate.

The trucking industry has been sparring with safety advocates and unions over driver hours for two decades. The government says nearly 4,000 people die in large truck crashes each year and driver fatigue is a leading factor.

A truck driver’s lack of sleep is being blamed for the June 7 highway crash that injured Morgan and killed another comedian in New Jersey.

According to a criminal complaint, Wal-Mart trucker Kevin Roper hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours before the crash.

Authorities say Roper apparently failed to slow for traffic ahead early Saturday in Cranbury Township and swerved at the last minute to avoid a crash. His big rig smashed into the back of Morgan’s Mercedes limo bus, killing comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair.

Morgan, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” cast member, suffered a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs. He’s expected to remain hospitalized for weeks.

Roper remains free after posting $50,000 bond. He’s expected to appear in state court Wednesday.