PORTLAND – Gov. John Baldacci was bruised and battered in an accident Wednesday, but that didn’t keep him from conducting business from his hospital bed. He eventually convinced doctors to let him go home.

Baldacci, who suffered a broken rib, mild concussion and bruises, slipped out of the hospital shortly before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday without talking to reporters.

Baldacci and Maine State Police Detective James Trask were injured when the 2004 Chevy Suburban driven by Trask struck another car on Interstate 295 in Bowdoinham, slid off the highway and came to rest on its side.

During the day, Baldacci checked in several times with his chief of staff on legislation while a patient at the Maine Medical Center. He eventually persuaded doctors to let him go home. Trask was released, as well.

After leaving the hospital, Baldacci arrived at the Blaine House in an unmarked cruiser and walked inside unassisted.

“He wanted to get back to the Blaine House,” said spokesman Lee Umphrey. “He felt it was time to go home and get back to work.”

Investigators blamed ice for the 6:10 a.m. accident while the governor was on his way to Portland, where he was to address the Greater Portland Chambers of Commerce, said Stephen McCausland of the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Trask, 41, was passing another car when he lost control and struck the car, McCausland said. The SUV then went off the highway and came to rest on its side in a stand of trees. Both men were in the front seat and the vehicle’s air bags deployed.

The other car came to a rest in the highway median; the driver, Timothy Putnam, 53, of Richmond, was not injured, McCausland said.

Putnam’s wife said she was told that Putnam passed a couple of vehicles and then “noticed a car coming up behind him quite fast.” Putnam pulled into the slow lane and the next thing he knew his car was spinning.

“It’s an understatement of the year to say it was a harrowing experience,” Laura Putnam said Wednesday night.

Baldacci agreed that it was a wild ride.

“The governor relates remembering the roller coaster, as he describes it, and thanking heavens that he was wearing his seat belt the whole time,” said Dr. Brad Cushing, director of trauma surgery at Maine Medical Center.

The driver of a pickup truck, Chris Levesque, told Maine Public Radio that he didn’t see the collision but saw the SUV spin out of control.

“It went 360, it had to have done at least four before it went off the road,” Levesque said. “It kind of entered into the woods backwards and the vehicle flipped onto its side and stayed that way.”

Both Putnam and Levesque dialed 911 on their cell phones. Levesque described the governor as “kind of fading in and out.”

At the hospital, Baldacci underwent several CT scans, which detected no serious internal injuries, Cushing said. Both the governor and Trask suffered minor concussions, he said.

Baldacci was joined at the hospital by his wife, son and brother Bob soon after the accident, officials said.

Baldacci received phone calls from the White House, the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, according to Umphrey.

Maine has no lieutenant governor. Under the Maine constitution the Senate president would exercise power if the governor is sidelined because of a disability, with the House speaker being next in line.

Because Baldacci’s injuries were minor, the issue of a temporary replacement did not come into play, McCausland said.

AP-ES-02-04-04 2215EST


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