An erratic driver in a red pickup racing wildly along the United States' busiest toll road sends the New Jersey governor's SUV smashing into a guard rail.
But that story, told hours after Governor Jon Corzine was critically injured, has been proven wrong by a new state police report that said his driver was going 91 mph (146 kph) in a 65 mph (104 kph) zone, with emergency lights flashing. The alleged erratic driver was not a villain, but a young man trying to get out of the way.
Corzine's driver, State Trooper Robert Rasinski, 34, also has come under scrutiny for letting the governor ride without a seat belt, a violation of state law.
Corzine remained in critical condition on a ventilator Wednesday with 11 broken ribs and a severely broken leg; Rasinski wore a seat belt and walked away from the April 12 crash.
State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes defended his initial praise of the trooper, whom he said "should be commended for his valiant attempt to avoid this catastrophe" immediately after last week's accident.
"You have a very major event. You have a lot of different variables in that event. The investigation is at its very earliest phase and things are going to change," Fuentes said.
State Police Capt. Al Della Fave said he did not know if Rasinski asked Corzine to fasten his seat belt, but said a state police review board will decide the trooper's responsibility for both that and his driving speed.
Rasinski has not returned repeated telephone calls made by The Associated Press. He could be disciplined if the board determines the crash was preventable, Fuentes said. Della Fave declined to elaborate.
Corzine's SUV was in the left lane with its emergency lights flashing when a red pickup tried to get out of its way.
But the pickup's right wheels went onto the grassy highway shoulder, and the driver overcorrected, swerving back on the road. That set off a chain reaction: A white pickup truck swerved to avoid the red truck, struck Corzine's sport utility vehicle and sent it smashing into a guard rail.
Officials have said the 20-year-old driver of the red pickup would not be charged because he did not know he caused the accident.
The driver of the white vehicle also was not charged.
Fuentes said the governor's executive protection unit is trained to move through traffic by increasing its speed and activating flashing lights when necessary.
Fuentes said the investigation showed that the governor, who was on the way to mediate a meeting between former national radio talk-show host Don Imus and the members of a women's college basketball team Imus insulted on the air, did not ask Rasinski to speed up.
In non-emergencies, the governor's drivers should obey the traffic laws "in the interest of safety both to the occupants of their car and the public," Fuentes said.
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