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Mississippi Governor Critically Injured In Wreck

November 6, 1996

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Kirk Fordice was critically injured when his sport utility vehicle veered off an interstate, flipped over several times as it rolled down an embankment and caught fire.

Fordice, 62, was in critical condition today with bruises to his heart, lung and liver. He also suffered fractured ribs, a collapsed left lung, a nearly severed left ear and cuts on his left shoulder in the crash late Tuesday afternoon.

``It’s critical and we’re not saying that to blow this out of proportion,″ said Dr. Keith Thomae, the governor’s attending physician. ``It’s going to be a long course in the hospital for him.″

Fordice was not up for re-election Tuesday. The conservative Republican was elected to a second term last year.

Fordice, who was driving alone, was pulled unconscious from his flaming Jeep Grand Cherokee, witnesses said.

``The fire was right there around him,″ said William Lowe, a truck driver who helped free Fordice.

Rescuers had to break into the vehicle, move the deployed air bag out of the way and cut through the seat belt to free him. They flagged down passing truckers to borrow fire extinguishers.

Fordice regained consciousness by the time he arrived at Grenada Lake Medical Center, about 15 miles south of the accident site in northern Mississippi. He was later taken by ambulance to a Jackson hospital 100 miles to the south.

The accident occurred about 5 p.m. while Fordice was en route to Jackson for a GOP election night gathering.

The governor ``typically takes the afternoon off election day,″ spokesman Heath Hall said during a briefing at the hospital.

``He generally likes to get out and drive sometimes and clear his thoughts and this was one of those occasions.″

State Public Safety Commissioner Jim Ingram said the cause of the accident was unknown. The weather was clear, and the hospital said there was no evidence of alcohol use.

Ingram said state troopers were driving along in another car to guard Fordyce, ``near the governor at all times.″

Lowe, however, said he saw no troopers at the accident scene. And Vicky Reyna, a Grenada County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, said a woman motorist, not a trooper, initially reported the wreck by cellular telephone. She gave an erroneous location of the crash, though, and emergency workers could not find it until after a second call from another motorist 14 minutes later, Reyna said.

Ingram did not explain what troopers were doing during that time.

Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who now becomes acting governor, also was in a car wreck this year. He sustained serious injuries in February when the highway patrol car he was in was struck broadside by another vehicle. Musgrove has since made a full recovery.

``I know what it’s like,″ he said after Fordyce’s crash. ``It can be devastating mentally and emotionally on your family and friends.″

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