Gov. Corzine’s driver punished for 91- m.p.h. wreck

Posted: June 21, 2007

Gov. Corzine's state police chauffeur will be disciplined for speeding and using police emergency lights in the SUV crash that severely injured the governor.

Trooper Robert Rasinski's driving was "culpably inefficient" and violated policy with his 91-m.p.h. speed and use of emergency lights when he spun the governor's Chevrolet Suburban into a Garden State Parkway guardrail 10 weeks ago, said the state police superintendent in a letter released yesterday.

Rasinski, 34, who has been a state trooper for seven years, will be punished for lacking the "appropriate level of situational awareness," Col. Rick Fuentes, the state police superintendent, said  in a June 20 letter to state Attorney General Stuart Rabner.

The penalty is expected to be light. A union representative said it amounts to a five-day suspension without pay, but can be appealed. Corzine said that he expected Rasinski to continue working for the elite state police Executive Protection Unit, which includes troopers who chauffeur and guard the governor.

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

He added: "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."

Fuentes, in his letter detailing findings of state police technical experts and the state police Motor Vehicle Accident and Pursuit Review Board, commended Rasinski for trying to control the SUV after it struck a pickup truck.

But Fuentes faulted Rasinski for driving at such high speed and using the emergency lights, saying the trooper couldn't cite any threat or hazard before the accident and couldn't remember increasing speed or using the emergency lights.

He concluded that Ransinski's driving was "culpably inefficient and in violation of the the division's rules and regulations."

Corzine's 2005 Suburban was the lead vehicle in a two-SUV motorcade as it raced north on the Parkway through Galloway Township during rush hour. 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 Corzine's SUV, which spun off the road and careened into a guardrail.

Corzine, who was not wearing a seat belt, suffered more than a dozen broken brones and spent 18 days recuperating at Cooper University Hospital in Camden. Corzine paid a $46 fine for not wearing the seat belt.

For several days after the wreck, state police cast blame on the driver of the red pickup truck for triggering the smashup. After they located the pickup and interviewed the driver, they backed away from that account.

Rasinski had been on the road with the governor for more than 12 hours that day, according to state police. He logged more than 330 miles while driving the governor to Pennsylvania for an FBI agent's funeral and to Atlantic City for a speech.

When the electronic "black box" aboard the governor's SUV was inspected, it revealed a speed of 91 m.p.h. seconds before the crash.

Ten days after the wreck, a North Jersey police officer claimed he had sent Rasinski an angry e-mail before the crash that may have distracted the governor's driver. Berkeley Heights Detective Sgt. Michael Mathis accused Rasinski of having had a two-year affair with his wife.

Fuentes said there was nothing to indicate that Rasinski was distracted by an e-mail or phone call while driving.

"No such activity took place," Fuentes said, citing an extensive inquiry that examined the trooper's work and personal communication devices and included interviews with Rasinski, his commanders, Corzine, and Corzine's assistant.

The superintendent's letter fails to address whether Rasinski or either of the other drivers in the wreck will be charged with traffic violations.

Nor does it mention the state police choice of a big SUV as the governor's limousine. David Champion, director of automobile testing for Consumer Reports, has said the 2005 Suburban's safety record is "not particularly good for a vehicle of its size."

Another investigative panel, appointed by the attorney general, continues to review the practices of the state police Executive Protection Unit. That panel, which could recommend changes in training and procedures, is chaired by former Gov. Christie Whitman.

The panel's recommendations are expected within the next month, said a spokesman for Rabner, who oversees the state police as head of the sprawling Department of Law and Public Safety.

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


Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or at samwood@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Jennifer Moroz and Samuel Dangremond contributed to this article.

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