Emerging from the hospital more than two weeks after a highway wreck left him critically injured, Gov. Corzine yesterday thanked supporters for well-wishes and help - then begged the New Jersey public to forgive him for not wearing a seat belt.
Corzine was met with cheers as his daughter, Jennifer Corzine Pisani, and son, Jeffrey, pushed his wheelchair through the emergency-room doors of Cooper University Hospital in Camden and into the sunlight.
"What a beautiful day!" he exclaimed weakly to the waiting crowd of reporters, photographers and hospital staff, many of whom helped tend to the governor during his stay.
They were Corzine's first truly public words since the April 12 smashup that snapped his left thigh bone, broke 11 ribs, his breastbone and collarbone, and, according to those who have talked with him, left him a changed man.
With his girlfriend, Sharon Elghanayan, beside him, the 60-year-old governor sounded alternately pained and choked up as he briefly addressed the crowd.
"I'm a blessed human being," he said, his voice almost drowned out by the clicking of cameras, the wind and the roar of helicopters. "I could not be more grateful for all the support I've had. . . . I just want to be sure I say thank you."
The governor's SUV, driven by a state trooper, was going 91 m.p.h. when it wrecked on the Garden State Parkway. He was sitting in the front seat, unbelted.
"I understand that I set a very poor example for a lot of young people, a lot of people in general," he said. "I certainly hope the state will forgive me. I will work very hard to set the right kind of example."
Corzine did not take questions. A spokesman later said the governor would launch a campaign to promote seat-belt use and encouraged state police to write him a $46 ticket for not buckling up.
The governor ended his remarks on a philosophical note.
"Nothing counts more in life than the people who care about you all the time, in moments of joy and moments of pain," he said, choking back tears, before being rolled to a waiting black wheelchair-accessible van that aides say the governor bought for his rehabilitation.
The van was headed straight to Drumthwacket, the governor's official residence in Princeton, where Corzine plans to continue his rehabilitation.
Doctors say Corzine still faces a long recovery from the accident, which occurred as the governor traveled from Atlantic City to Drumthwacket to host a meeting between the Rutgers women's basketball team and radio host Don Imus, who was fired for insulting the players on-air.
The state trooper at the wheel of Corzine's SUV was going 26 m.p.h. over the legal limit, police emergency lights flashing. A red pickup veered out of the way, but started a chain reaction that ended with Corzine's SUV getting clipped and sailing into a guardrail.
The governor was helicoptered to Cooper. He underwent three surgeries on a badly broken thighbone and was on a ventilator in intensive care for more than a week.
Doctors say he might not be able to walk without crutches or a cane for months.
Before the accident, Corzine lived in his apartment in Hoboken. Spokesman Anthony Coley said Drumthwacket is being outfitted to help his rehabilitation. A chair lift is being added to the main stairway, and the outdoor pool is being heated so the governor can use it during physical therapy. Exercise equipment, including a stationary bike, will be installed in an upstairs room, Coley said.
Coley said the millionaire governor, a former Wall Street chief executive officer, was paying for everything - including the $59,500 2007 GMC Savana that transported him to Drumthwacket yesterday. The sole exception, Coley said, was the chair lift, which the state already owns.
"He's been fortunate in life and sees no reason for taxpayers to foot the bill," Coley said.
Coley said Corzine would use a hospital bed and would have home health aides working with him for at least the next week or two.
He said he did not know when he would be well enough to take back the reins of the state from Senate President and acting Gov. Richard J. Codey.
"We're in no hurry," Coley said. "The state's in good hands."
Coley also said there were "no concrete plans" for the governor's seat-belt campaign but "I would certainly expect some public-service announcements and things of that nature."
State police, who are investigating the wreck and have 30 days to issue a citation to Corzine, yesterday declined comment.
Coley said there were no plans for Corzine to publicly address the speeding issue, adding, "I think people are frustrated with him for failure to wear his seat belt."
A state police panel that reviews every accident involving a trooper at the wheel will decide whether Corzine's driver, Trooper Robert Rasinski, was driving appropriately. Attorney General Stuart Rabner said the panel met for the first time yesterday. He said he hoped it would complete its work within a month.
Rabner said a separate independent advisory group he has convened to review the practices of the Executive Protection Unit - the elite group of troopers that guards and drives the governor - will have its first meeting on Friday. The panel will decide whether to open its meetings to the public, though Rabner said he expected that the process would mostly be closed because of security reasons.
He said the panel has a "broad mandate" to review seat belts, speeding, and the use of emergency lights - all factors in Corzine's accident - as well as training, equipment and maintenance. Rabner said he hoped the group would issue its report and recommendations within two months.
To view a video of Gov. Corzine's remarks as he left the hospital, go to http://go.philly.com/joncorzine