JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ In his first words about the cause of his near-fatal car crash, Gov. Kirk Fordice told his wife Thursday: ``I don't have a clue.''

Meanwhile, his aides explained that the reason he was driving alone, miles behind his police escort, was that he had asked for some privacy. His Jeep ran off a rural highway and caught fire Tuesday evening.

``Every governor across this country deserves personal, private time,'' said State Public Safety Commissioner Jim Ingram, who retracted his initial statement that the troopers were ``near the governor at all times.''

Ingram said the governor has the right to refuse the police escort and had asked the troopers to use a separate car while he was returning home from his native Memphis, Tenn.

``The governor has the discretion of saying he wants to attend functions by himself, and that happens,'' Ingram said. ``When he wants to drive, let me tell you there are days _ and it happens every now and then _ he wants to get out and be by himself and drive and drive and drive.''

Fordice's Jeep ran off Interstate 55 in northern Mississippi, rolled down an embankment and caught fire, trapping him inside. Other motorists pulled him out. Ingram said the governor's officers _ who were three miles ahead of him _ did not know of the accident until they were notified by radio.

The 62-year-old governor suffered numerous injuries, including broken ribs, possibly broken vertebrae and bruises to his heart and lungs. Doctors said he was in stable condition in intensive care _ upgraded from serious _ and his breathing tubes were removed for the first time since the wreck.

Fordice's wife, Pat, who was in France on a state trip at the time of the crash, visited her husband Thursday when the tubes were removed.

``My first question was, ``What happened?'' she said. ``He said, `I don't have a clue.' He doesn't know what happened.''

The cause of the crash is under investigation. It occurred in clear, dry weather around dusk. The hospital said there was no evidence he had been drinking, and doctors said they do not believe he suffered a heart attack before the wreck.

The governor's staff, meanwhile, broke two days of silence over the accident.

In a sometimes testy session with reporters, Fordice chief of staff Mark Garriga said ``many of the facts of the governor's accident are only now being pieced together.'' Among the unknowns, he said, is what Fordice did in the hours before the accident.

``I am not even sure you and I have a right to know,'' he said.

Garriga said he believes the conservative Republican governor may have been in Memphis handling the estate of his mother, who died in March. He was on his way back to Jackson to attend a GOP election night party when the accident happened.

Garriga said pursuing questions about Fordice's private time ``seems to me to approach the limits of decency ... He and his family are entitled to some privacy.''

Mrs. Fordice said she and Fordice both like to have private times, but after the accident, that may be a thing of the past.

``We just feel every now and then we need to be by ourselves,'' she said. ``I have a feeling from now on we'll always be in the presence of security officers.''