By David Porter
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK _ The family of a comedian killed in a New Jersey Turnpike crash that seriously injured Tracy Morgan last summer has settled a wrongful-death claim with Wal-Mart.
The out-of-court settlement between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the estate of James McNair is the first stemming from the June 7 crash, in which a Wal-Mart truck slammed into a limo van carrying Morgan and others home from a show in Delaware.
Morgan, the former “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star, suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident, according to his lawyer. Criminal charges against truck driver Kevin Roper are pending in state court in New Jersey.
McNair, 62, grew up with Morgan in Brooklyn and was a friend and mentor to him over the years.
The terms of the settlement are confidential, but McNair family attorney Daryl Zaslow told The Associated Press the family was pleased with the outcome.
Wal-Mart “caused extensive damage” to the family but accepted responsibility and “more than stepped up to the plate and took care of this family,” Zaslow said.
“Ultimately they did the right thing by the McNairs,” he said.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, was working toward settlements with others injured in the accident.
“We know there is nothing we can do to change what happened to Mr. McNair,” Buchanan said. “We’re committed to doing what’s right.”
In an interview with the AP on Wednesday, McNair’s children _ Denita, 19, and Jamel, 26 _ described their father as a humble, grounded man. They said he attained a level of fame but cared less about the trappings of celebrity than about helping others, whether through advice to young comedians or giving out free Thanksgiving turkeys to needy families in his hometown.
“You don’t have to be a celebrity to make a difference in a lot of people’s lives,” Jamel McNair said. “My dad made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
Denita McNair was about to graduate from high school at the time of her father’s death, and she said she hopes to go to college eventually after taking some time off. Jamel McNair is pursuing a singing career. Both said they haven’t been contacted by Morgan or his representatives since the accident.
An attorney representing Morgan didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the settlement. The lawyer, Benedict Morelli, said last month that Morgan hadn’t fully recovered from his brain injury and that it was uncertain if he would be “the Tracy Morgan he once was.”
Passengers Ardley Fuqua, of Jersey City, New Jersey, and Jeffrey Millea, of Shelton, Connecticut, also suffered serious injuries in the June crash. A lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart by Morgan, Fuqua and Millea is proceeding in federal court.
Under terms of the settlement, Wal-Mart admitted no liability in the crash, Zaslow said, adding that the settlement was reached before the formal filing of a lawsuit.
Roper, the driver, has pleaded not guilty to charges of death by auto and assault by auto. According to the criminal complaint, Roper was operating the truck without having slept for more than 24 hours.
A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board estimated that Roper was driving 65 mph (105 kph) in the 60 seconds before he slammed into the limo van. The speed limit on that stretch of the turnpike is 55 mph (88 kph) and was lowered to 45 mph (72 kph) that night because of construction.
AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles contributed to this story.