GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Gov. Corzine was seriously injured last night when his Chevy Tahoe was involved in a hit-and-run accident and swerved into a guardrail on the Garden State Parkway. Officials said the governor, who was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, did not suffer any life-threatening injuries.
Corzine had been on his way from an Atlantic City speech to host a private meeting between radio show host Don Imus and the Rutgers University women's basketball team at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion in Princeton.
During a news conference at Cooper last night, Steven Ross, head of the hospital's trauma unit, said the governor suffered fractured ribs, a compound fracture of the left leg for which surgery was required, and chest injuries.
Early this morning, Dr. Robert Ostrum said the surgery was a success, but noted that the governor will need two more operations on his leg in the coming days. Doctors also inserted a breathing tube.
Ostrum said the tube would remain "for days to weeks, until [Corzine] is able to breathe on his own again." However, Ostrum said the injuries were not considered life-threatening.
Former governor and current state Senate President Richard J. Codey became acting governor last night and will serve indefinitely. Ostrum said Corzine would not be able to conduct his gubernatorial duties as long as he was on the breathing tube.
Corzine, who was conscious when he arrived at the hospital, suffered a broken sternum, a broken collarbone, a slight fracture of the lower vertebrae and six broken ribs on each side in the crash. Corzine also had lacerations on his head, but did not sustain any brain or spinal cord damage.
The governor was moved to the hospital's trauma intensive care unit after the surgery and was listed in critical but stable condition early today. He was sedated and was receiving pain medication.
Ostrum said Corzine's femur broke through his skin and was broken in two places. A rod was inserted in the leg, and additional operations were scheduled to be performed tomorrow and Monday.
Ostrum said it would be at least three to six months before Corzine could walk normally.
Also injured was Robert Rasinski, the state trooper driving Corzine's Tahoe, who was also treated at Cooper. Officials said Rasinski asked that his injuries not be disclosed.
Corzine's personal assistant, Samantha Gordon, was in the backseat of the car, seated behind Rasinski, and was not seriously injured.
Addressing reporters at Cooper last night, Col. Joseph R. "Rick" Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said that the accident occurred near mile marker 43.5 shortly after 6 p.m., when a red pickup truck cut off a white Dodge Ram and forced it into the path of the governor's sport-utility vehicle.
Rasinski swerved to try to avoid that vehicle and lost control of the Chevrolet, sending it into the center median and striking a guardrail, Fuentes said.
Corzine was seated in the front seat, and state police were investigating whether he was wearing a seatbelt.
After the accident, the red pickup did not stop, and police were looking for its driver last night, Fuentes said.
Witnesses told police that the man behind the wheel of the red pickup - the vehicle responsible for the crash - had been seen driving erratically before the accident. The driver of the white Dodge stopped and gave statements to police.
At mile marker 43.5, the Garden State Parkway is a four-lane highway divided by a wide grassy median bisected by a metal guardrail. Its speed limit is 65 m.p.h. The Garden State Parkway, which runs along the Jersey Shore, is a toll road, and investigators were expected to look at toll-booth cameras to see whether the vehicle was caught on film.
Fuentes said that Rasinski had done a "tremendous job" maintaining what control he could over the Chevrolet. He added that conditions were dry at the time, and speed and alcohol did not appear to be factors.
Officials did not, however, indicate how fast the vehicles had been traveling.
At the scene in Galloway Township, the SUV was smashed up against the guardrail along the median of the parkway. All the doors were open, and the front driver's side had been smashed in.
From a series of skid marks in the road and scratches on the governor's black SUV, it appeared to an eyewitness that the vehicle had rolled over before it came to rest on the guardrail.
State police were investigating last night with the help of a high-powered mobile lamp.
A trooper, flashlight in hand, was seen combing the woods and the grass near where the accident occurred, and police were looking at heavy skid marks in the SUV's track.
As night fell, the accident investigation backed traffic up for nearly three miles, with only one lane getting by.
Corzine was returning in a two-car caravan from public events in Atlantic City, including a speech before the New Jersey Conference of Mayors at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
Galloway Township Mayor Thomas Bassford said a swarm of Galloway Township EMTs and firefighters from the Pomona Volunteer Fire Department were called to assist with the accident, which he called "extremely bad."