New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine returned to work Monday — a changed man, a humble man, a somewhat broken man physically — just three weeks after having survived a horrific high-speed highway crash that almost killed him.
"If it doesn't change your life that you are laying in the back of an SUV, wondering whether you are going to live, I think you are crazy," Corzine told TODAY's Matt Lauer in exclusive interview taped Sunday inside the Governor's Mansion in Princeton, N.J.
Corzine, 60, was seated in the front seat of a 2005 Chevrolet Suburban driven by a state trooper on April 12 when the crash occurred on the Garden State Parkway.
Corzine, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was en route to the meeting at the Governor's Mansion between Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team to discuss the racially charged comments the radio host made about them on-air.
Corzine said he heard a vehicle tap the SUV's right side. What happened next is still fuzzy for the Democratic governor.
"I was editing memos ... The next thing I know we were in a spin," Corzine said. "The next time I am aware of anything after I heard the crash, is I'm laying in the back."
At the time of the accident, the governor's state-owned vehicle was estimated to be traveling at 91 mph, 26 miles per hour above the posted limited on the Garden State Parkway. Corzine said it felt like the SUV was going at the same speed as the rest of the traffic on the busy highway.
The accident threw Corzine hard into the back of the vehicle. He suffered a broken left leg, a broken collarbone, 11 broken ribs, a dislocated sternum, and other injuries. Although he returned to work Monday, Corzine will work with a cane for months and will have to undergo physical therapy.
He was in and out of consciousness for eight days, and remembers very little of it.
When he finally came to, his three children and girlfriend were at the side of his hospital bed. (Divorced from his high school sweetheart, Joanne, Corzine has three adult children: Jeff, Jennifer and Josh. He's been dating his current girlfriend, New York psychotherapist Sharon Elghanayan, for more than two years.)
"I remember getting into the helicopter. Then I remember almost nothing for the next eight days," Corzine said.
Noting that New Jersey has a strict seatbelt law and Corzine was not wearing his, Lauer asked Corzine whether he thought he had set a poor example.
"Yes, that's why I apologized to the public. I have no excuse. I made a mistake," Corzine said. "I've made that mistake before."
Corzine said that despite suggestions from his state police drivers on several occasions that he put his seat belt on, he often opted for comfort over safety.
He plans to use his near-death experience to educate others about the importance of wearing seatbelts.
As part of accepting responsibility for serious injuries that might have been avoided had he worn his seatbelt, Corzine is paying his own hospital bills.
"It is my mistake. I believe, with the way our insurance system works in New Jersey, it would be right out of the taxpayers' pockets," he said. "It's not right. I'm the one who messed up."
The multi-millionaire can certainly afford it. Corzine made his fortune at the investment firm of Goldman Sachs, becoming its chairman in 1994. He left Wall Street in 1999, and was elected to the U.S. Senate the following year.
Corzine became New Jersey’s 54th governor in 2006.