Monday, April 30, 2007

Addicted to Speed?

The New York Times reported this afternoon that Governor Corzine's brand new GMC Savana van was speeding with the Governor on board, sometimes at sustained speeds 15 mph in excess of the posted limit on I-295, while returning him to Drumthwacket from Camden's Cooper Hospital earlier today. The story, Corzine Leaves Hospital After Accident by David Kocieniewski & David W. Chen, was posted around midday.

Corzine had been recuperating from severe injuries sustained in an early evening crash on the Garden State Parkway 18 days ago on April 12, 2007, while rushing back from Atlantic City to Drumthwacket, the official Governor's residence which is located in Princeton, NJ. He had been scheduled to attend a meeting with former radio jock Don Imus and the members of the Rutgers University Womens' Basketball Team following the brouhaha that arose out of Imus's on-air comments about the appearance of the players, an incident which ended up costing him both his TV and radio shows when sponsor support collapsed.

Though the superintendent of the State Police, Rick Fuentes, insisted for days that speed was not a contributing factor, and that a witness had come forward testifying that the vehicle was going at the posted speed limit (65 mph) at the time, a black box in the Chevy Suburban SUV the Governor was riding in at the time recorded the vehicle's speed at 91 mph just a few seconds before the crash. Corzine's injuries were exacerbated by the fact that he was not wearing a seat belt at the time, and he suffered a considerable number of fractures, including 11 ribs, a fractured sternum, a fractured collar bone, a fracture to one vertebra, and a compound fracture of his left femur.
Several issues arose from the circumstances, a few key ones of which remain unresolved.

Today, just before getting in the new vehicle for the drive back to Drumthwacket from Cooper, the Times reported a few remarks the Governor made, including the following,

“I set a very bad example,” said a contrite Mr. Corzine, who broke his left femur, his sternum and 11 ribs in the accident, speaking from a wheelchair just outside Cooper University Hospital in Camden. His voice breaking with emotion, he added: “I hope the state will forgive me. I will work very hard to set the right kind of example.”

The New York Times then reported that,

After the brief comments, Mr. Corzine was helped into a black GMC Savana van, with tinted windows, that he bought and had specially modified for his wheelchair, and left the hospital in a six-car caravan about 1:45 p.m. His vehicle followed a black state police Crown Victoria, and was followed by a Chevrolet Suburban — like the one he was riding in at the time of the crash — a Mercedes station wagon, and two other cars. The motorcade did not use emergency lights, as it had been just before the accident.

The governor’s motorcade moved with the flow of traffic on Interstate 295, at some points sustaining speeds up to 70 miles per hour several minutes at a time, according to the speedometer of a vehicle traveling alongside; posted limits were 55 and 65. Capt. Al Della Fave, a state police spokesman, said the commander of the executive protection unit, which provides security and drivers for the governor, told him on Monday that the troopers in the motorcade had been instructed to adhere to posted speed limits. He declined to identify the driver of the governor’s van or to make any of the drivers of the motorcade available for an interview.

Politicsnj, a political website posting and reporting a wide array of state political stories, had the Times article prominently linked on their website by a little after half past four in the afternoon.

By tomorrow, every paper in the state will carry the story, and it will likely continue as a prime topic on talk radio at NJ 101.5.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Speaking of the Truth . . .
When Might the Corzine Proxies Stumble Upon It?

The terrible motor vehicle crash that happened on the Garden State Parkway (GSP) last Thursday evening, April 12, 2007 at "a little after 6 pm," the one which severely injured Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey, has once again plunged the State into a situation where the elected Governor is at least temporarily unable to perform the duties of his office. And those who are putting out the official versions of the events leading up to and including the crash, are unfortunately coming up very short. Their credibility is now seriously in jeopardy.

Official versions of the events, mostly revealed through the actions and statements of the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Joseph R. “Rick” Fuentes, have been marked by alternate stonewalling and dissembling about this matter right from the very start. The official story of what happened has changed significantly since Fuentes made his first public comments at 9 pm on the night of the crash.

To some extent, of course, changes are to be expected as they sift through the evidence. But conflicting interests and temptations to minimize certain information, apparently have quickly cast the investigation into disarray. The Governor's driver, Robert Rasinski, is a state trooper. The investigating agency is the Division of State Police. And, the Superintendent very quickly and personally grabbed the informational reins in revealing to the public the emerging findings of their probe. But much of what he said they "found," turned out not to be true.

Two very Different Stories:

That first evening, Fuentes told a hastily arranged Press Conference at 9 pm at Cooper Hospital, that at just after 6 pm at mile marker 43.5 on the Garden state Parkway, a white Dodge Ram Charger had swerved in front of the Governor's SUV, and that the Governor's vehicle tried to avoid it, but was unable to stop in time and ran into the back of the vehicle.

Take a look at this graphic the Philadelphia Inquirer quickly published, based on his comments and the initial police investigation at the scene. In response to a question that night, he stated the following:

Question: So the accident was between the Governor’s vehicle and the white pick up truck? Is that right?

Col Fuentes: Exactly, it was the white pick up truck, which swerved over into the left lane, in front of the Governor’s car.

But, if accurate, that would have tended to prove that the Governor's SUV was traveling significantly faster than the Dodge Ram Charger, was simply unable to stop in time, and that the Governor's driver perhaps tried to avoid impacting the car in front, which is why it lost control went off the roadway.

The story then changed, inconsistent as it was with the no speeding claim.

The new story that quickly emerged was that the white Dodge Ram Charger swerved into the front side bumper of the Governor's SUV as they were cruising side by side at the speed limit, essentially forcing it off the roadway. Here is the graphic for that story, published by the Star-Ledger entitled, "How It Happened".

As you can see, those are two entirely different stories. One thing is for sure, they cannot both be true.

The latest version of the status of the investigation was just released on April 17th, when they were forced to admit that the governor's SUV was going 91 mph.

No Seatbelt:

Then too, the front office also fudged for two days about whether the Governor had been wearing a seat belt, even though it was obvious from his location in the vehicle after the crash (the back seat), and especially in light of the chest injuries and head lacerations, that he had not been wearing a seatbelt.

News accounts, e.g., NY Times, now confirm that he was in the back seat when he was pulled from the vehicle.

Mr. Corzine, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the front passenger seat to the back, breaking his thigh bone in two places, a dozen ribs, his breastbone and collarbone and a lower vertebra. He remains in critical condition and on a ventilator after three operations on his leg.

Looking For a Scapegoat:

Right from the start, the front office, again through Rick Fuentes, attempted to scapegoat the “erratic driver” of the red pickup, who, once identified, turned out to be Mr. Kenneth Potts, of Little Egg Harbor.

They used all the official resources at their disposal, and manipulated the media into launching a statewide manhunt for the driver of the red pickup.

For example, an AP story entitled “Police hunt for red pickup that led to Corzine crash,” and printed in the Record on Friday, April 13th, stated the following:

They also issued an all-points bulletin for the red pickup truck, and urged anyone who might have been driving in the area at the time of the crash to call State Police.
. . .

The driver of the vehicle could face charges including careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Investigators even publicly stated that they were going to use EZPass records in an attempt to track him down.

The result, however, was the discovery that it was the actions taken with respect to the Governor’s SUV – the questionable use of the flashers and later, driving at an unacceptably high rate of speed – that really precipitated the entire episode.

Mr. Potts was obeying the law (See, N.J.S.A. 39:4-91a) when he pulled out of the way for what he clearly must have thought was an oncoming emergency vehicle, and he obviously could not be charged. Had he been charged, he would have likely "lawyered up" and the discovery process would have begun.

That prospect must surely have dampened the enthusiasm of Administration insiders!

Yesterday, when the Administration finally had to own up to the fact that the Governor’s vehicle was barreling along at 91 mph, 26 mph OVER the speed limit, Anthony Cooley, speaking for the Administration, suddenly whipped up a dollop of verbal salve to try to quell the negative reaction to the Administration’s flip-flop on speed.

Said he, in part:

“The Corzine Administration believes this should not be about assigning blame or pointing fingers, but simply about getting a more thorough understanding of the circumstances surrounding this accident.”

Sure, Anthony! Tell that to Kenneth Potts of Little Egg Harbor! How about an official apology to him for starters?

Today, Tom Hester's AP article, which was printed in several papers today, including the Daily Record, details exactly how seriously the initial official story is unraveling, especially given the failed effort to scapegoat Kenneth Potts.

Speed of the SUV:

From the start, Colonel Fuentes insisted repeatedly that speed was not a factor in the accident. At one point he even flatly stated that the vehicle the Governor was riding in was not speeding. And, just a few days ago, a mystery witness appeared, claiming that the vehicles were all going 65 mph. More on that later!

Fuentes, as we noted, said speed was not a factor the very first night, during the 9 pm Press availability, and he repeated that for several days.

From that Press availability:

“Traffic was flowing and the speed is not considered to be a contributing circumstance.”

But yesterday, he suddenly declared that speed is always a contributing factor in crashes!

As David Kocieniewski of the New York Times pointedly noted in his April 18, 2007 story, Corzine’s Speed Put at 91 M.P.H. Near Crash Site:

The results of the accident investigation contradict the original account the state police gave in the first 24 hours. Colonel Fuentes himself said Thursday night that “speed was not a factor” in the accident. When asked Tuesday whether he now believed that speed played a role in the accident, Colonel Fuentes replied: “What do you think?”

“Speed is always a contributing factor in any accident,” he added later. “It goes to the heart of what damage you may have on the vehicle.”

What, did Fuentes do . . . attend a refresher seminar in highway traffic safety on Monday?

We also noted in a comment on an article carried by Politicsnj that the EZPass records, the very ones that were being used to track down Mr. Potts, could also be used to determine the average speed of the Governor’s SUV from the moment it entered the Garden State Parkway. A simple calculation could be based on the time and exact location of entry, and the time of and exact location of the accident. That would yield a very precise determination of their average speed.

What this is really all pointing to is the fact that significant speed differential between vehicles, including those traveling in the same direction, is very frequently a prime cause of serious injury and fatal car crashes.

Today, Mitch Maddux of the Record laid some of that out today in his story, "Corzine's speed gave others little time to react." It could have also been entitled "Corzine driver had little time to react."

In what Bill O'Reilly of The Factor might call the "unresolved problems" segment, we have a few very prominent controversies that are still very much in play.

For example,

Speed and the “Secret Witness.”

It looks like Colonel Fuentes may have either recklessly made public the false testimony of a witness, or he went to the extent of manufacturing evidence and released it publicly, in order to try to cover up the fact that the Governor’s vehicle was obviously speeding. At least, those are the two greatest possibilities.

Remember this little gem from the Sunday Star-Ledger story “Pickup driver not charged,” by Susan K. Livio & Paola Loriggio?

Last night, a man State Police identified as a witness to the accident, said he was driving alongside the governor's SUV moments before the crash. The man, who asked not to be named because State Police told him not to speak to the media, said both his vehicle and the SUV were going 65 mph, the posted speed limit on that part of the Parkway.

Presumably, that statement was taken under oath, wouldn’t you think? Whoever that witness was, it is pretty clear he was a liar.

So, when is Rick Fuentes going to publicly identify the witness who lied?

And, when is he going to announce that the witness has been arrested for obstructing an official investigation, and possibly for lying under oath?

Or, did the Superintendent just make that story up?

Either way, Fuentes has botched the whole thing by apparently trying to cover up for the Administration from the beginning, and is improperly politicizing State Police actions.

Why should he not thereby be seen as having seriously harmed the reputation of a proud and highly professional organization?

The people of New Jersey need to rely on the State Police for integrity and professionalism in protecting the public safety, and have a right not to expect political dissembling by their leader.

One can imagine that there are many troopers out there who are very, very upset by the ham-handed way the Superintendent has dealt with this matter.

What time Was the Meeting?

Incidentally, it turns out that the time of the crash was 6:15 pm, not "a little after 6 pm" as was said by Fuentes that night, a claim he has repeated several times since. That fact is very important in a future determination of exactly how far they had to drive to get to Drumthwacket, and what time the meeting with Don Imus and the Rutger’s University Women’s Basketball team was supposed to get underway.

In fact, the Governor’s aides will not say, according to the New York Times.

Aides to the governor said they did not know what time the meeting at the mansion was scheduled, but the Rutgers team arrived at 7:45, and Mr. Imus before that.

But one thing the New York Times did report incorrectly, is the driving distance from mile marker 43.5 to Drumthwacket. They said it was 75 miles. That may be the distance essentially the way the crow flies, but not the way that the vehicle was headed home that night. It's more like 90 or 95 miles. MapQuest shows that the shortest distance is 79 miles.

That, however, would have entailed driving "the hypotenuse" at such extremely high speeds for long distances on crown-top, two lane back roads, with traffic and deer at dusk along Routes 539, and 526, including driving along High Street and right down Main Street in Allentown. There is just no way they would have chosen that route for a high speed run!

We noted early on that they were driving up the GSP, where they would have picked up I-195, to I-295, and then headed up Princeton Pike to Drumthwacket -- that's approximately 90 miles or so.

And that, it may well turn out, was the real motivating factor in the Governor’s vehicle speeding up the Parkway. Getting to a photo-op on time!

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Ain't that the Truth?

In Russian, Izvestia means "news," or "reports," and Pravda, of course, means "Truth."

Izvestia, or "the News" was the official government news organ expressing the views of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.

"The Truth" was the leading party news organ expressing the views of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.

One transliterated* version of an old Russian joke from back during the Soviet Era goes something like this:
"Izvestia nye Pravda, y Pravda nye Izvestia."


"The News is not True; and the Truth is not News."

Some things just never change!**

Well . . . at least we now know what newspaper Rosie O'Donnell has been reading!

*Hat-tip to KarissaKilgore at Sugarpacket for the readable transliteration (with one minor correction). The translation is mine.
**Via Drudge