TRENTON - "Send everything immediately."
So began the frantic emergency response after a Chevrolet Suburban carrying Gov. Corzine slammed into a guardrail on the Garden State Parkway on April 12.
Emergency transmissions and 911 calls released by the state yesterday show the scramble to get medics, a helicopter and ambulances to a critically injured Corzine, who was in the smashed-up SUV with an aide and their driver, Trooper Robert Rasinski.
The tapes display some confusion from the unit protecting the governor, which initially thought the crash may have occurred on the Atlantic City Expressway. The recordings also detail the early search for a red pickup initially thought to have caused the crash.
Apparently a few seconds after passing the crash on the parkway, an unidentified man called 911.
"There were two big SUVs coming up with flashers in the left lane," he said. "A guy in an SUV pulled off the shoulder in the right lane, spun one of these guys around. He's over the guardrail."
The SUV that hit the guardrail was carrying Corzine, and it had been traveling at 91 m.p.h. seconds before the crash.
"It just happened right in front of me," the man added. "It's going to be a mess."
The dispatcher replied: "We got troopers on the way."
Another 911 call came in at 5:54 p.m., from a man who said he was pulled over on the shoulder. He reported a "bad accident. . . . An SUV that had flashers on went over the guardrail."
Two minutes later, a state police officer called Galloway Township police. "We have a severe accident . . . troopers requesting paramedics, EMS, and anything you can send out there. Fire, the whole nine yards."
Shortly afterward, an emergency management system transmission: "Not sure exactly what we have up there . . . so send everything immediately."
Around 6:06 p.m., a Galloway sergeant called the town's police dispatch: "Yeah, just FYI. This accident on the parkway. Rumor has it, it possibly could be Corzine involved." The sergeant suggested sending more units.
Meanwhile, the executive protection unit charged with guarding Corzine was confused about where the accident was.
State Trooper Dawn Curran, who was driving Corzine's chief of staff and communications director from the governor's mansion right after the accident, lost a call from a colleague on the scene. Curran then mistakenly called dispatchers for the Atlantic City Expressway, thinking the accident had happened there.
"They got into an 11 [code for a motor vehicle accident] with the governor in the car," Curran told the dispatcher.
"Oh, no," the dispatcher replied. But she said she had no reports of accidents on the expressway.
Corzine's communications director, Anthony Coley, said that confusion did not delay the emergency response to Corzine. State police spokesman Capt. Al Della Fave said the same.
"The thing that did delay the response," Della Fave added, "was the inability to extricate the governor from the vehicle. It took some time."
Out on the parkway, an out-of-breath state trooper reported: "We need South Star," the helicopter that would transport Corzine to the hospital. "We have traffic stopped. We need them to expedite. They can land on the parkway."
Della Fave said the helicopter arrived and was waiting while Corzine was pulled out of the vehicle.
"OK. We're loaded now," went the transmission from Corzine's helicopter, about to head for Cooper University Hospital in Camden. "We should be airborne shortly."
Aboard Corzine's helicopter, a man reported that his patient was conscious but complaining of pain in a leg, shoulder, and his chest and abdomen. "He's starting to have increased pain in his chest," the man said, adding that Corzine was given "two liters" of an unspecified liquid.
State police were also focused on the vehicle thought to have caused the crash. According to early reports, that truck cut off another truck, which then swerved into the path of the governor's motorcade.
"A few cars involved have left the scene that may have been partially involved," one state trooper reported. "There's a red pickup . . . just keep an eye out for that."
"We'll be looking for that," replied another.
"Apparently, it was all over the road," said another.
Later in the evening, troopers apparently stopped at least one truck, a red Dodge Ram with two men heading to Newark. But it turned out to be the wrong one.
The driver of the truck, Kenneth Potts Jr., was found the next day. Police eventually determined that Potts had pulled onto the shoulder to get out of the way of the speeding motorcade, which had had its emergency lights flashing. Potts swerved back into the road to avoid a mile-marker post, causing another truck behind him to swerve into the right front of Corzine's SUV.
Police have filed no charges in the accident.
The state Attorney General's Office released dozens of recordings yesterday from several law-enforcement agencies after open-records requests from The Inquirer and other news media. The Inquirer's request previously was denied, and the paper filed a lawsuit appealing the decision on Thursday.
Corzine was released from the hospital on Monday and is undergoing rehabilitation at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion in Princeton.
A state police panel is reviewing the accident, and a separate committee yesterday began reviewing the policies of the executive protection unit that guards the governor.
Excerpts from eight recordings from state troopers and others in the aftermath of the April 12 crash that injured Gov. Corzine on the Garden State Parkway:
. . . A motorist calling a 911 dispatcher said, "There were two big SUVs coming up with flashers (inaudible) the left lane and a guy in an SUV pulled off the shoulder in the right lane, spun one of these guys around, and he's over the guardrail.
"It happened right in front of me," he said. "I just went right by them."
He then said, "One guy jumped out of the other SUV and is going to help them, but it's going to be a mess."
A state police officer called Galloway police: "We have a severe accident . . . troopers requesting paramedics, EMS, and anything you can send out there. Fire, the whole nine yards."
In Princeton, Trooper Dawn Curran of the executive protection unit heard of the accident and called state police headquarters, but erroneously said the motorcade accident happened on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Curran then spoke to the expressway headquarters, and said that she had lost a call from a sergeant traveling with the governor who had reported an accident.
"They're on the expressway," Curran said.
"They're on the expressway?" asked a woman with the expressway.
"Yeah, that's what they told me," the trooper said.
Curran was driving Corzine's chief of staff Tom Shea and spokesman Anthony Coley from the governor's mansion, Coley said.
Officials were able to locate the scene and assess injuries.
"Major signal 11, north of the A.C. Expressway," said an out-of-breath woman. "Be advised, put a helicopter on standby and expedite an ambulance for two."
Troopers along the parkway were alerted to watch for a red vehicle initially believed to have caused the accident, and were told it might be a red van or a red pickup.
At one point, a trooper mistakenly believed another trooper found and stopped the vehicle, only to be told, "I don't have it stopped. I'm just looking for it."
A person aboard the South Star helicopter told personnel at Cooper University Hospital in Camden they were flying a "50ish-year-old male, rear-seat passenger, appears to be a rollover motor vehicle accident." Corzine, 60, had been in the front seat but was thrown into the back in the crash.
The man has an "obvious fracture of left, appears to be, femur, is also complaining of pain in left shoulder, chest and abdomen," he said, adding that the patient reportedly had no shortness of breath, "although he's complaining of excruciating pain in his leg."