State trooper disciplined in Gov. Corzine’s high-speed accident

Posted: June 21, 2007

The state trooper driving Gov. Corzine's SUV at 91 m.p.h. when it slammed into a Garden State Parkway guardrail should not have been driving at high speed with his police emergency lights flashing and has been disciplined, the state said.

Col. Rick Fuentes, the State Police superintendent,  wrote in a letter today to the state attorney general that Trooper Robert Rasinski's "pre-crash driving conduct was culpably inefficient and in violation of the division's rules and regulations." Discipline for the trooper, who works in the elite Executive Protection Unit, which chauffeurs and guards the governor, wasn't immediately disclosed, although Corzine said he expected Rasinski to remain with the unit.

Rasinski was chauffeuring the governor from Atlantic City to a meeting with disgraced radio personality Don Imus at the Governor's Mansion in Princeton in April when the Chevrolet Suburban hit a pickup truck and slid into a guardrail  in Galloway Township. Fuentes says in his letter that the trooper couldn't recall flipping on the SUV's police emergency lights or increasing speed before the wreck.

The superintendent also said investigators had thoroughly probed an extraordinary entanglement. Ten days after the wreck, a North Jersey police officer claimed that he had sent Rasinski an angry e-mail just before the crash that may have distracted the driver.

Berkeley Heights Detective Sgt. Michael Mathis accused Rasinski of having a two-year affair with his wife.

Fuentes said "significant resources" and "extensive inquiry" were used to probe the allegation that Rasinski may have been distracted by an e-mail or text message. In the end, Fuentes' letter says, investigators found that "no such activity took place."

Corzine said he spoke to Rasinski yesterday "and reiterated my personal gratitude, and the gratitude of my family, for the way he controlled the SUV on April 12."

"I have confidence in Rob and would expect him to remain in the Executive Protection Unit," Corzine said in a statement.

"This has been a regrettable and painful experience for all involved, and no one is more aware of that than I. A lot of mistakes were made on April 12; chief among them was my failure to wear a seat belt."

None of the three drivers involved in the crash has been ticketed. Rasinski returned to work in the state police Executive Protection Unit after several days of recuperation from the crash.

Some experts say the 10-week investigation of the crash, in which Corzine's Chevrolet Suburban spun into a guardrail, has taken longer than similar probes.

"The accident wasn't all that complicated. It shouldn't take them that long," said Chuck Pembleton, past president of the National Association of Professional Accident Reconstruction Specialists. "It's not like they had to do a lot of investigating."

State police disagreed.

"There has been no delay in any part of this investigation," said Sgt. Stephen Jones, a state police spokesman. "The end product will be the result of a thorough and expedited inquiry to all the circumstances of this crash."

Pembleton, who said he investigated 4,000 crashes in his 30-year police career, runs a private accident-reconstruction company in Prince Georges County, Md.

"I used to try to get my reports out in a couple of weeks," Pembleton said. "So I can't imagine why it's taking so long, unless they're dragging their feet because of who was involved."

Corzine's 2005 Suburban, the lead vehicle in a two-SUV motorcade, was in the passing lane, traveling north with its emergency lights flashing to clear the way, state police said. A 20-year-old casino worker in a red pickup truck pulled onto the shoulder to get out of the way, but swerved back into traffic to avoid a mile-marker post. That caused a white pickup to swerve into the right front of Corzine's SUV, which spun off the road and hit a guardrail, state police said.

Corzine, who was not wearing a seat belt, broke more than a dozen bones and spent 18 days recuperating at Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

Another private accident investigator, Jeff Grey, who operates Impact Reconstruction Consultants in Lumberton, said some investigations take two or three months.

Grey, a former fatal-accident investigator for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, said accident reconstruction is a meticulous process that cannot be rushed.

Already, the accident has prompted the state police to add five troopers to the 29-member Executive Protection Unit, so more drivers can join the chauffeur rotation to avoid fatigue.

Corzine's driver had logged more than 330 miles in 12 hours on the day of the crash.


Contact staff writer Sam Wood

at 856-779-3838 or samwood@phillynews.com.

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