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THE NATION

Governor may not have worn seat belt in N.J. crash

Corzine's condition is critical but stable. 'I think he was lucky,' his doctor says.

April 14, 2007|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was apparently not wearing a seat belt in the Thursday crash that left him seriously injured, his staffers said Friday.

The Democratic governor was listed in critical but stable condition Friday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., where he was heavily sedated and unable to talk because of a breathing tube, Dr. Steven E. Ross said at a news conference. Corzine has fractures to six ribs, a vertebra, his sternum and his left leg.

"I think he was lucky," said Ross, who added that Corzine suffered "severe trauma" and was in a lot of pain.

Corzine was on the Garden State Parkway, headed to the governor's mansion in Princeton for a meeting with radio host Don Imus and the Rutgers University women's basketball team, when a white Dodge truck -- trying to avoid colliding with a red Ford pickup -- swerved into the black Chevrolet Suburban he was riding in. The Dodge hit the right front fender of Corzine's Suburban, said New Jersey State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones.

The governor was sitting in the front passenger seat, said his chief of staff, Tom Shea. Corzine's SUV careened across lanes and crashed into a guardrail on a forested highway median.

"It does not appear that the governor was wearing a seat belt," Corzine spokesman Anthony Coley said.

The state trooper who was driving the vehicle and Corzine aide Samantha Gordon, who was in the back seat, were not seriously hurt.

Police were still looking Friday for the Ford driver who apparently triggered the accident. "We're certainly looking to question this person," Jones said.

John Ulczycki, executive director of transportation safety for the National Safety Council, said it was frustrating that a high-ranking politician might not have been strapped in.

"Unfortunately, sometimes it takes high-profile tragedies like this to remind all of us of the importance of wearing seat belts," Ulczycki said.

New Jersey is one of 24 states where police can cite people they spot not wearing seat belts, Ulczycki said. In 25 other states, police can ticket drivers and passengers for not wearing seat belts if their vehicle is pulled over for another violation, such as speeding. New Hampshire is the only U.S. state with no seat belt laws, Ulczycki said.

State Senate President Richard J. Codey, a Democrat from West Orange, announced at the Trenton statehouse Friday that he would be acting governor until Corzine returns to his duties.

It could take months for Corzine to make a full recovery, Ross said.

It is not the first time Codey has taken on the role. He took over as governor when Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey resigned in 2004, finishing the 14 months remaining in McGreevey's term. New Jersey is one of a few states without a lieutenant governor, making the state Senate president next in line.

Corzine, 60, is a former Marine who served in the U.S. Senate. He was sworn in as governor in 2006; his term expires in 2010.

His son Jeff thanked the public Friday for its support.

Corzine's daughter, Jennifer Pisani, said the family had met with him Friday morning.

"I feel like we had a really good vibe from him, and he's a fighter," she said. "We really believe he's going to be OK."

erika.hayasaki@latimes.com

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