Mississippi Governor Injured in Mysterious Wreck
Nov. 06, 1996
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Kirk Fordice was in intensive care Wednesday, recovering from serious injuries after his Jeep ran off a highway as he drove alone several miles behind his official escort.
The state troopers assigned to accompany him were unaware of the wreck until they were notified by radio, officials acknowledged.
Fordice, 62, was in serious condition _ upgraded from critical _ at University of Mississippi Medical Center with bruises to his heart, lung and liver. He also had fractured ribs, a broken shoulder, a collapsed left lung, a severely lacerated ear and cuts.
The governor's 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee ran off Interstate 55 some 15 miles north of Grenada, rolled several times and caught fire at about dusk Tuesday, trapping him in the wreckage. Grenada is 105 miles north of Jackson.
Fordice, a conservative Republican in the first year of his second term, remained on a ventilator to assist his breathing. His attending physician, Dr. Keith Thomae, estimated he would be hospitalized for at least two weeks ``if everything went perfect.''
``He's conscious enough to know that family members are at the bedside,'' Thomae said.
Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove became acting governor.
The cause of the wreck remained under investigation. The weather was clear and the hospital said there was no evidence of alcohol use.
``It's just straight interstate through here,'' wrecker service operator Tommy Griffis said of the area. ``We're sort of in the middle of nowhere.''
Travelers who stopped to help had to tear a door off, clear away Fordice's deployed air bag and cut through a seat belt to free him.
``The fire was right there around him,'' said truck driver William Lowe, one of those who helped free Fordice.
Doctors do not believe Fordice suffered a heart attack before the wreck, Thomae said.
Fordice was en route to Jackson for a GOP election night gathering.
The governor's staff was secretive about his whereabouts before the crash. Spokesman Heath Hall would say only that Fordice had been in northern Mississippi.
The governor ``typically takes the afternoon off election day,'' Hall said. ``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 initially insisted that state troopers who guard Fordice were ``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. It was 14 minutes before emergency workers found the wreck site, Reyna said.
Ingram later recanted his statement, acknowledging that the troopers were traveling in a car three miles in front of Fordice. He said the officers did not know of the accident until they were notified by radio.
Lowe said he didn't even realize who he had helped pull from the wreckage until he returned home and saw a television news report about the accident.
``After we got him out and laid him on a bank, he was moaning and groaning. He was fighting us and wanting to get up,'' Lowe said. ``We had to fight him the whole time until the ambulance got there.''
``I tried to calm him down. He said to get my hands off him so he could breathe,'' Lowe said. ``He was real strong.''