Corzine reflects on near deadly crash

April 7, 2008 12:04:04 PM PDT
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine learned several lessons after nearly being killed almost a year ago when his sport utility vehicle careened into a guard rail at high speed.

One practical lesson, he said, was to always wear a seat belt.

Another lesson is more spiritual, Corzine said.

"All of our human existence is fragile, and it is very momentary," he said.

Corzine on Monday, speaking to reporters at Drumthwacket, the governor's residence where he did much of his rehabilitation, recalled the April 12 Garden State Parkway crash that left him with 15 broken bones and in the hospital for 18 days, much of it on a ventilator and in intensive care.

Corzine spoke to The Associated Press last week about the crash and described how his accident and recovery has helped shape public policies.

He issued similar sentiment on Monday and spoke of feeling fortunate to be alive.

"I understand as a human being that I'm blessed to be here," Corzine said.

The 61-year-old Democrat deemed himself fully recovered.

He no longer walks with a limp and can run up to five miles on a treadmill.

"I have this great sense of gratitude that I'm alive," Corzine said.

Dr. Robert Ostrum, the orthopedic trauma director at Cooper University Hospital in Camden who worked on Corzine, said he's astonished at Corzine's recovery.

"He's had a complete recovery," Ostrum said. "It's truly amazing. I've given him a clean bill of health, told him he can do whatever he wants."

Corzine was a front-seat passenger not wearing a seat belt when his state trooper-driven sport utility vehicle slammed into the guardrail after being clipped by a pickup truck on the Garden State Parkway. His SUV was going 91 mph moments before the crash.

A state police report later determined improper use of emergency lights by Corzine's driver triggered events that led to the crash.

The governor broke 15 bones, including his left leg in two places, and was hospitalized for 18 days, much of it in intensive care and on a ventilator.

Corzine, who paid a $46 fine for not wearing his seat belt, has promoted seat belt usage since his accident.

"Seat belts do save lives," Corzine said. "They ought to be worn. I hope I have been able to convey to the public the importance of that."

New Jersey seat belt usage increased since the crash, from 90 percent to nearly 92 percent.

Corzine also now travels to more events in a state police helicopter, and the governor said troopers ensure he's buckled up, are more aware of their speed and use emergency lights only to maneuver out of traffic jams.

State police haven't implemented all recommendations of a special task force that reviewed the governor's protection unit after the crash.

But State Police Capt. Al Della Fave said they expect to do so in the coming months.

Della Fave said problems with staffing levels mean troopers still drive the governor for more than eight hours, though the task force said they should be replaced after driving him for that long.

The governor's 29-member protection unit was recently expanded by four troopers, which was recommended.

Della Fave said state police will soon start a six-month probationary period for new unit members and begin a 40-hour training course for unit members, as was recommended by the panel.

State police have implemented more extensive training for trooper-drivers, including periodic refresher courses, along with Secret Service-style training.

Corzine said he doesn't think his crash disrupted his administration too much.

He's been governor since January 2006 and is a bit more than halfway through his four-year term. He's spent the last several months discussing state budget woes and his administration's plans to cut state spending and debt.

Any disruption from the accident, he said, has been made up for "with my own sense of reinforced commitment."

"I think there's an intensity about the value of each day," Corzine said. "You would have to be disconnected from reality if you didn't understand I was lucky to be here, flat out lucky to be here."