April 14, 2007 in Nation/World

New Jersey governor didn’t wear seat belt

Kathy Matheson Associated Press

CAMDEN, N.J. – Gov. Jon S. Corzine was apparently riding without a seat belt, in violation of state law, when he was critically injured in the crash of his official vehicle, a spokesman said Friday.

A state trooper was at the wheel and the governor was sitting as usual in the front passenger seat when the SUV slammed into a guard rail Thursday night, authorities said. Corzine broke a leg, his breastbone, 12 ribs and a vertebra.

Corzine, 60, was sedated and on a breathing tube, and a doctor who helped treat him said the governor was fortunate he was not more seriously hurt.

“There’s no way to tell specifically how close he came to more severe injuries, but based on pictures I’ve seen of the crash, I think he’s lucky,” said Dr. Steven E. Ross, trauma chief at Cooper University Hospital.

Ross said Corzine was stable and improving, and could be removed from a ventilator within the next few days.

State police were looking for the driver of a pickup they believe caused the crash and fled. That driver could be charged with careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. The governor himself could face a citation.

Corzine chief of staff Tom Shea said he did not believe the governor had been wearing his seat belt.

“If he was not, he certainly should have been,” Shea said, “and we would encourage the state police to issue a citation.”

Shea said Corzine usually wears his seat belt. When asked why the trooper who was driving would not have asked Corzine to put on his seat belt, Shea said the governor was “not always amenable to suggestion.”

A law enforcement official close to the investigation told the Associated Press on Thursday that the governor typically does not wear his seat belt and that his state trooper detail had not been successful in persuading him.

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