Corzine's crash raises questions about how governors get around

Associated Press • Apr 28, 2007 at 11:09 AM

TRENTON, N.J. - The high-speed automobile accident that critically injured Gov. Jon S. Corzine has focused attention on the practices of governors' official drivers across the nation.

Corzine, who took his first steps Wednesday since his April 12 crash and is expected to leave the hospital in the week ahead, suffered 11 broken ribs, a severe leg fracture and other injuries when the state SUV in which he was a passenger went out of control and smashed into a guard rail.

The vehicle, driven by a state trooper, was going 91 mph in a 65 mph zone with its emergency lights flashing.

Corzine, late for a meeting between radio host Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team, was not wearing a seat belt as he rode in the front seat.

According to an Associated Press survey of travel policies nationwide, governors' drivers - who are state law enforcement officers - are expected to obey traffic and safety laws and not to speed or use warning lights just because their bosses are running late or want to get somewhere quicker.

Still, these drivers typically are allowed to speed and use flashers in emergencies, and in some states they are allowed to speed to avoid potential security risks that may come with standing idle in traffic.

New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner convened an independent panel Thursday to examine Corzine's state police detail.

"What they'll review as part of their post-incident assessment is the background, the qualifications, the record, the work experience in security protection and the training of the overall operation," said G. Michael Verden, a retired secret service agent who specializes in executive protection with Hillard Heintze LLC in Chicago.

"The end game is you never want to see this incident occur again," he said.

The AP's survey of gubernatorial travel in all 50 states found that:

•All other governors say they use seat belts, even New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, whose state is the only one without a law mandating seat belt use.

•Governors typically sit in the front seat if they're riding alone but in back if aides are traveling with them.

•Governors may use a plane, helicopter, state car or SUV, depending on their schedule, the weather and the distance they're traveling.

At least three governors - Corzine, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist - sometimes charter private aircraft. Corzine, a multimillionaire, pays for three to five helicopter trips a month himself; Blunt's election campaign committee pays for a chartered plane when he has multiple events in a day; and either Crist or a private donor pays when the governor flies to the events like the NCAA men's basketball championship in Atlanta or last week's Sheryl Crow concert to combat global warming.

Officials in several states reported having no written policy on gubernatorial transport, with some saying they preferred that their executive protection unit have discretion while driving the governor. Some, citing security concerns, would not discuss transport protocol. No state agreed to share its complete policy.

In New Jersey, members of the governor's executive protection unit are trained to increase speed and activate flashing lights when necessary, although they are expected to obey traffic laws in non-emergencies, according to State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes.

In Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and New York, the governors' drivers may exceed the posted speed limit - with restrictions.

Nevada allows cars carrying dignitaries to drive 15 mph over the speed limit but does not equip the governor's car with emergency flashers. Troopers driving Wyoming's governor are given latitude "in emergent situations," said Highway Patrol District One Commander Capt. Perry Jones. Drivers in Oregon may exceed the speed limit to protect the governor's safety, but that's never happened, said Anna Richter Taylor, spokeswoman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

New York troopers driving the governor can speed up to avoid traffic because of security concerns. "So you're not boxed in," said state police spokesman Glenn Miner. Some governors have imposed limits after their travels drew attention. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pledged two years ago to slow his state police-driven vehicle after Albuquerque police briefly chased the unmarked SUV before realizing it was the governor's. In 2003, The Washington Post reported that Richardson's motorcade reached 110 mph on an interstate highway. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell required his drivers to obey posted speed limits after The Philadelphia Daily News reported that troopers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike clocked his state-issued Cadillac DeVille at more than 100 mph on nine separate occasions.

Recommended for You