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#PRRant: Another Disaster for Walmart
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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The recent horrific traffic crash on the New Jersey Turnpike between a Walmart truck and a luxury limousine bus in which comedian Tracey Morgan and two others were critically injured and a fourth person killed is yet another PR nightmare for embattled big box retail chain Walmart.

A piece authored by Brian Greene on PR News for Smart Communicators noted: “Wal-Mart is definitely not a stranger to public relations problems. From strikes stemming from issues like poor wages and working conditions to allegations of predatory pricing and more, criticism of Wal-Mart warrants its own Wikipedia page. The events that transpired early on Saturday morning involving a Wal-Mart truck and comedian Tracey Morgan, whose work includes '30 Rock' and 'Saturday Night Live,' certainly won't help the retailer's embattled image.”

As the investigation into the tragedy by the National Transportation Safety Board and the New Jersey State Police got underway, it was soon learned the truck's driver, Kevin Roper, not only had not slept in “over 24 hours” but also apparently had a Twitter handle which contained the words “move or get hit” in its biography section. Roper, according to reports, “failed to slow for traffic and swerved, smashing into the back of Morgan's limo and starting a chain-reaction crash involving four more vehicles. Roper has been charged with death by auto and four counts of assault by auto as a result of the crash.”

A spokesperson for Walmart has denied that Roper has any involvement in social media. Other sources are not so sure and are more inclined to believe Roper's alleged Twitter account is legitimate.

In an attempt to try to limit some of the bad fallout from the tragedy, Walmart CEO Bill Simon issued a statement, which said in part (according to Greene's article): “This is a tragedy and we are profoundly sorry that one of our trucks was involved. We are working quickly to understand what happened and are cooperating fully with law enforcement to aid their investigation.... The facts are continuing to unfold. If it’s determined that our truck caused the accident, Wal-Mart will take full responsibility."

It's a noble gesture for Walmart to make, but this latest episode could become a real black eye for the retailer and further damage its attempts to rebuild its image. Time will tell.

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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