This Millsboro man was driving the night comedian Tracy Morgan almost died. Here's his story
It must have looked like a scene from a movie.
Six years ago this weekend, Millsboro's Tyrone Gale walked across Lewes Beach wearing a bloodied suit. He was only a few hours divorced from the most horrific moment of his life.
Gale had been driving "Saturday Night Live" alum Tracy Morgan and a few others home to New Jersey following a performance at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino when a Walmart tractor-trailer slammed into their van on June 7, 2014.
Opening act James "Jimmy Mack" McNair was killed. Morgan was critically injured. And several others were hurt.
Gale suffered minor injuries and decided to get checked out at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes near his home instead of in New Jersey. But before he got to the hospital that morning, he took a detour to the beach.
Still in shock, Gale is sure that he walked past early morning sunbathers, although he didn't see them at the time. His head was still spinning as he sought a slice of peace.
"The people on the beach were probably thinking, 'We're going to see this man on the news later,'" joked Gale, recalling the bizarre scene. (They actually would see him on the news, since the accident and Morgan's injuries were splashed across newscasts nationwide.)
He knelt along the waterline, put his hands in the water and just listened to the calming waves, trying block out the sounds of shattered glass and shrieks that filled the air on the New Jersey Turnpike earlier that morning.
It was one of his first steps toward healing, a journey that has left the 50-year-old savoring every moment of life because he knows firsthand how frail it can be.
"I don't take one day or one minute for granted," said the contagiously outgoing Gale, who wears a wristband that declares, "Success is my duty."
After Morgan's show in Dover, he was riding high along with a trio of opening act comedians and friends: McNair, Ardie Fuqua and Harris Stanton. Gale's business partner Ed Walpole and Morgan's assistant Jeff Millea were also there.
They all loaded into Gale's new 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter limo van and continued cracking jokes as they headed north on Route 1, onto I-95 and eventually the New Jersey Turnpike.
"My ribs hurt. I don't think I ever laughed that hard before," Gale remembered. "Even if this accident didn't happen, I would have been talking about that night my whole life."
After 1 a.m., a Walmart truck going 20 mph over the speed limit slammed into the rear of the Sprinter. It was driven by a man who would later be determined by authorities to have been awake for 28 hours straight at the time of the accident.
McNair, who was a tall man, was stretched out in the rear seat at the time of the collision. He was the lone fatality. Morgan sustained life-threatening injuries including brain trauma, a broken leg and several broken ribs. He was placed in a medically-induced coma.
Gale was lucky to escape with mostly minor injuries, but he suffers lasting effects such as headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gale said he felt like he was in a war movie at the time of the crash — like he was inside a tank when it blows up.
"I thought we hit a mine or somebody blew us up. There's metal twisting, people screaming and we're spinning," he said.
He said he had to kick out his window to escape.
"The first thing I thought was we're going to blow up and I'm getting out of here," he remembered.
He then helped his business partner Walpole get free while other late-night drivers on the turnpike stopped and helped until emergency responders could arrive. Gale said it took probably 20 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime.
"We're pulling bodies out of the van. We have Tracy's head completely open. And you're just speechless," he said, recalling how he checked on each person one by one. "It's like being a dad in the delivery room. All you really want is healthy, counting fingers and toes."
Gale, Walpole and Stanton were the only ones well enough to be up and moving around. The four others were going in and out of consciousness from the crash, which crumpled the rear of the Sprinter.
The victims later settled with Walmart for an unspecified amount of money after filing a negligence lawsuit. At the time, the settlement was reported to be as much as $90 million. "At the end of the day, they did what's right," Gale said.
The first time Gale saw Morgan after the crash was 1½ years later. As he walked up to him, Gale fainted and dropped to his knees.
"He was like, 'I'm OK.' I had been holding his head that night and for him to just get up out of the chair and walk to me. It just hit me, he said.
Morgan told him the accident was "their Vietnam." And just like soldiers after a war, they still keep in touch due to that common bond.
Gale was also there for Morgan's emotional return to Dover Downs more than two years after the crash. Morgan kept a seat open in the front row to honor McNair.
He also rattled off a few jokes about the crash and the settlement.
"I forgive the driver. I'm not mad at him anymore," he said. "But I'll tell you who is mad at him: my new white neighbors."
Getting into the limo business
Gale's journey to Delaware's beaches and his work as a driver for the famous — he counts singer Justin Timberlake, basketball star Allen Iverson, former Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell and billionaire Under Armor founder Kevin Plank among his past clients — started in Philadelphia, where he was born.
After high school, he joined the National Guard and then became a commercial truck driver.
He got in the limo game by happenstance. A friend was supposed to be working for a limo company one New Year's Eve, but started partying and asked Gale if he could cover the gig.
Gale agreed and after his friend, the company and his passengers paid and tipped him, he was $250 richer. The money was better than trucking and he began working for a limo company in Aston, Pennsylvania. He started his own company, Bayside Limousine, in Lewes with a partner in 2005.
He regularly shuttled people to events such as The Starboard's Running of the Bull, New Year's Eve parties and St. Patrick's Day bar hops in between his trips for more famous customers. One of his steady gigs was handling transportation for performers who came to Dover Downs, leading to that fateful night with Morgan.
Major life changes
Steve "Monty" Montgomery, co-owner of The Starboard, was a silent partner with Gayle in Atlantic Transportation, which is what Bayside eventually morphed into. Gayle was working for Atlantic at the time of the Morgan crash.
Montgomery first met Gale about a decade ago when Gale was a limo driver for him and a friendship grew. Montgomery remembers getting a call that night about the accident and has tracked Gale's recovery.
"He went through a lot of struggles mentally and he will be the first to admit that," Montgomery said. "At first, I think he was so happy to be alive for his children, but then the mental part kicked in."
Montgomery has watched Gale fight back, better himself and re-dedicate himself to helping others.
He's been busy:
- He left the transportation world and opened a new septic business with a partner.
- He lost about 150 pounds since the accident, thanks in part to weight loss surgery.
- And as a recovering alcohol and drug addict who has been sober for 14 years, he opened the five-bedroom Heartwind Sober Living, a Delaware residential facility for those recovering from addiction.
"He wants to do things for people. It's who he is," Montgomery said. "I know people who have alcohol issues and he's very helpful. And when people are embarrassed to talk about an issue, he makes them feel so comfortable."
Gale got sober after a 2006 drunk driving accident while behind the wheel of one of his limos. These days, Gale still works hard and plays hard. But the playing doesn't involve booze or drugs.
He also dotes on his new granddaughter.
His daughter Alexis — one of his three children — gave birth in March to little Naomi, the first child with her fiancé, who just happens to be up-and-coming country music performer Jimmie Allen, a Milton native.
"It's such a blessing. You fall in love all over again," Gale said.
He also spends a lot of time with his soon-to-be son-in-law, fishing and making regular escapes to one of Allen's favorite places, Disney World.
In between, Gayle even tried his hand at stand-up comedy.
In 2017, he performed his first-ever comedy set at The Starboard. Wearing a t-shirt honoring McNair, he says he had the time of his life cracking jokes and taking in the laughter.
Montgomery was there for the emotional moment, which came three years after the accident: "You could tell it was therapeutic. The guy had a rag wiping tears away literally as he was laughing at his jokes with everyone else."
Survivor's guilt: A weight lifted
The most emotional moment from the accident and aftermath came a day or two after the accident when McNair's sister Pamela called.
She wanted to know the details of what happened, but mostly, she wanted to know that her older brother did not suffer.
She also wanted Gale to know that she and the family did not blame him. Gale had been wracked with survivor's guilt.
"We cried and he kept saying I'm sorry and I told him, 'You have nothing to be sorry for, at all,'" said Pamela, who said she has also forgiven Walmart driver Kevin Roper.
Roper pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and four charges of aggravated assault, but avoided prison time by entering into a three-year intervention program, which removed the charges from his record upon completion.
Gale was invited to the funeral and Pamela made sure he had a seat up front in the comedian section.
In the years since, they have bonded like family over their common loss with Pamela and her family even coming to Ocean City, Maryland, for a week to vacation with the Gales for fishing and fun.
"It was like we knew each other all of our lives. We got each other through it," she said. "I can't imagine what he's gone through, That's a scar that is never going away, having seen that. But I try to keep him uplifted and encouraged and he does the same."
For Gale, the relationship was an important step in allowing himself to crawl out from under the sadness and guilt of the crash.
"Every time she calls me brother, it just melts me," he said.
A full-circle moment
When Gale was pulling Walpole out of the Sprinter on that clear night, it paralleled the first time they met, which was also the last day Gale had a drink.
It was 2006 and Gale "was acting the fool," grabbing one of his limousines to go out partying. He blacked out and crashed in Dover.
The next thing he knew, a stranger was at his door asking if he was alright. It was Walpole.
Six years later, he saw Walpole again. This time at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They eventually realized how they knew each other. A little later, Gale hired Walpole onto his Atlantic Transportation team.
So when Gale reached into the Sprinter for Walpole eight years later, it seemed like another moment ripped from a movie script. But it was all too real for Gale.
As he said, "There are no accidents in God's world."