Gov. Corzine remained in critical condition today, recovering from a broken thigh bone and a dozen broken ribs from a Thursday night accident on the Garden State Parkway. Officials say it appears that he was not wearing a seat belt.
"Based on the pictures I've seen of the crash, I think he was lucky," said Steven Ross, head of Camden's Cooper University Hospital trauma unit.
Ross said today at a hospital news conference that Corzine remains in intensive care, breathing on a ventilator and heavily sedated because of pain to his chest.
The governor can communicate by nodding his head, Ross said.
Corzine's injuries are "extremely painful," said Ross. "It hurts to breathe."
An official familiar with the governor's condition said this afternoon that Corzine would be mentally alert within a few days, but would likely be in a wheelchair for several months because of the severe pain caused by broken ribs.
His leg breaks are also extraordinarily severe, and he will require extensive physical rehabilitation, the official said.
Corzine's children have been at the hospital. His daughter, Jennifer Pisani, said her father "is a fighter."
At a Statehouse news conference in Trenton this afternoon, Corzine's chief of staff, Tom Shea, said it appeared that the governor was not wearing a seat belt when his Chevrolet Suburban SUV, which was being driven by a state trooper, swerved to avoid another vehicle and hit a guardrail.
Shea said an aide reported that the governor had been wearing a seat belt earlier in the day. "If he was not, he certainly should have been," Shea said.
Richard J. Codey, the former acting governor who is not State Senate president, became acting governor again last night. Shea said he expected Codey to be acting governor for "certainly several days, possibly a week."
"We won't know that until we know really what the governor's prognosis for recovery is going to be," Shea said. "He certainly needs the ability to concentrate and focus and communicate in order to effectively carry out the duties of his office. And I think only time will tell how long that takes for him to be able to do that again."
Codey, who served as acting governor for 14 months after Jim McGreevey left office, said that business would continue as usual, as state officials prepared for a Nor'easter this weekend.
A state police spokesman, Sgt. Stephen Jones, said investigators now believe the vehicle that set in motion events causing the crash is a red Ford F-150 or F-250 pickup truck from the late-1980s or early '90s, with a cap on the back.
The vehicle has New Jersey plates, Jones said.
Investigators were reviewing parkway toll plaza surveillance cameras to find the license number and owner.
The area where the wreck occurred isn't known for accidents, Jones said, and he continued to insist that speed wasn't a factor.
"Speed wasn't considered a factor because they weren't speeding." said Jones. "The governor's SUV and the follow car were going the flow of traffic."
He said evening rush hour traffic wasn't heavy and the highway was dry.
The airbags in the governor's SUV didn't activate, Jones said, because the first impact was a glancing blow off the right front fender from another vehicle involved in the crash. The governor's SUV then smashed into a guardrail, with the impact on the driver's side front wheel.
Any additional witnesses are asked to call the State Police Bass River Station at 609-296-0503.
Corzine's driver, Trooper Robert Rasinski, also was hurt and was being treated at Cooper. He'll likely be released from the hospital today, Jones said.
Corzine's personal assistant, Samantha Gordon, was in the back seat behind Rasinski, and was not seriously injured.
Corzine was returning from public events in Atlantic City, including a speech before the New Jersey Conference of Mayors at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. He was heading 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.
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 SUV.
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.
After the accident, the red pickup truck did not stop, and police were looking for its driver, 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 Dodge Ram stopped and gave statements to police.
At mile maker 43.5 point, 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.
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 that speed and alcohol did not appear to be factors.
Officials did not, however, indicate how fast the vehicles had been traveling.
Corzine is the third New Jersey governor in recent history to suffer a broken leg.
Jim E. McGreevey broke his leg in a fall from Cape May's promenade in 2002, and was also airlifted to a hospital in another part of the state, Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick.
Christie Whitman broke her leg in 1992 while on a ski trip in Switzerland.
Contact staff writer Elisa Ung at 609-989-9016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Melanie Burney contributed to this article.