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Corzine says he's 'most blessed'

He makes first public statements since near-fatal April 12 crash

Gov. Jon S. Corzine, speaking publicly for the first time since he was seriously injured in an automobile accident two weeks ago, said yesterday that he feels blessed.

"I'm the most blessed person who ever lived," Corzine told an Associated Press photographer from his hospital room.

Sitting in a chair next to his hospital bed, Corzine appeared in good spirits as he posed for his first public photographs since an April 12 crash on the Garden State Parkway.

Corzine did not allow a reporter to interview him in his room. His only comment was made during a five-minute photo session with the AP photographer, whom he greeted with a handshake as he entered the room.

The 60-year-old former investment banker has been hospitalized at Cooper University Hospital in Camden since the SUV he was riding in crashed on the Garden State Parkway. Corzine's vehicle, being driven by a state trooper at 91 mph, was clipped by a truck and lost control, slamming into a guard rail.

The governor suffered a badly fractured left thigh and 11 broken ribs, his breastbone, a collarbone and a vertebra in his lower back. He was operated on three times, and a metal rod was inserted to stabilize his leg. For more than a week, he breathed with the help of a ventilator and got nutrition through a feeding tube.

He is now able to talk again and is eating food that includes pancakes, cheeseburgers and protein shakes.

Wearing a white "Cooper University Hospital" polo shirt and red exercise pants, Corzine had no visible scrapes or bruises, though his speaking was a bit labored as he visited with one of his sons yesterday. He read from the stack of get-well cards piled on a bedside table.

The chest tube that had been draining fluid from around Corzine's left lung was removed yesterday.

Also yesterday, a citizen filed a complaint against the governor for failing to wear his seat belt in the accident. A judge will review the complaint next week. Court action which could lead to a $46 fine. *