Crackberry addicts, even if this story is “dogpile,” it’s worth contemplating next time you pick up your PDA while driving to see if you’ve got a new message:
New Jersey State Police are investigating an allegation that the trooper who was driving Gov. Corzine’s SUV two weeks ago when it crashed going 91 m.p.h. may have been distracted by e-mails sent to his mobile phone or BlackBerry.
A Berkeley Heights police sergeant was quoted in the Star-Ledger of Newark yesterday saying he sent an e-mail shortly before the crash to Trooper Robert Rasinski, confronting him over having a two-year affair with his wife, Susan. He said he enclosed a family photo as an attachment.
Detective Sgt. Michael Mathis said he hoped the angry messages he sent to Rasinski did not cause the April 12 crash on the Garden State Parkway.
“We are confirming that there is this allegation and that it is under investigation,” State Police Lt. Gerald Lewis said yesterday. He declined to comment further.
Police are trying to determine whether Rasinski saw the messages just before the crash and whether they had an effect on his state of mind. The governor’s Chevrolet Suburban, speeding and with lights flashing, was struck by a pickup truck that had swerved to avoid another vehicle. The SUV then spun around and crashed into a guardrail.
Can you imagine the situation, if this is true? Or, to be fair to Trooper Rasinski, let’s imagine it generically. You’re driving a VIP to an important meeting (in Gov. Corzine’s case, it happened to be with Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team). You notice the signal that a new e-mail has arrived. You read it and the news is…existentially upsetting. Someone you care about has died. They found a lump somewhere and they want to biopsy it. Your pet has disappeared. You’re dumped. You’re fired. Another 9/11 has occured.
Okay, not too long ago, it would be considered uncool and uncouth to send such news on an e-mail. But apparently not anymore, because there is no dispute that Sgt. Mathis did use e-mail to confront Trooper Rasinski with his allegation. And certainly, Trooper Rasinski would not be the first driver on an American highway to read an e-mail while behind the wheel, traveling at high speed.
The problem of electronic communication devices and driving has been framed up til now as one of distracting the eye and diverting the hand. But what about the soul? Should you be driving at 80 or 90 miles per hour simultaneously with getting news that will change your life forever?
Obviously, no. But how do we stop the news from coming in?
Trooper Rasinski’s union brothers are, of course, standing by him:
Davy Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, blasted Mathis’ allegations yesterday and called them “dogpile.”
“My people are out there doing the right thing,” he said yesterday.
Jones told the Star-Ledger the investigators asked Rasinski “all these questions in a taped interview. That’s part of the standard protocols. . . . There’s nothing here other than an understandably aggrieved, soon-to-be ex-husband putting something forward that is totally without merit, and it’s a sin.”
The new twist in the crash investigation came as doctors reported that Corzine is breathing on his own and began taking food yesterday.
Mathis, 40, had posted messages on the Star-Ledger’s Web forum, saying he had sent Rasinski the e-mail with the photo just minutes before the accident. “I hope it didn’t cause the crash,” Mathis wrote in the forum, “but no man in his right mind could have been thinking clearly with the affair exposed.”
Mathis confirmed to the newspaper that he had posted the comments.
Mathis also wrote in the forum that he first contacted Rasinski on April 10 in a phone call and, over the next two days, exchanged text messages with the trooper. He told the newspaper he learned a month ago his wife was having an affair.
So this wasn’t the first Trooper Rasinski would have learned that his affair had been discovered. But still, he was being harassed by his lover’s husband, and it must have stirred his blood each time he was confronted with the fallout. And then, over his shoulder, here’s the governor saying Get me through this traffic, Trooper.
Ever since the Clinton/Lewinsky scenario, it’s assumed that everyone can compartmentalize. They can do anything and everything in their private lives; their jobs won’t be affected. That’s the position the fraternal association takes on the case now before us. The issues are completely separate, and only a half-mad jealous husband is capable of the “sin” of thinking Trooper Rasinski’s driving was affected.