Gov. Christie on bridge scandal: ‘I knew nothing about this’

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(CNN) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is continuing to face intense political heat Thursday after e-mails from a top aide appear to show involvement in September lane closures that jammed roads near and on the George Washington Bridge.

But how badly were people affected by the sudden and unannounced closures in one of the nation's busiest traffic areas?

Emergency responders were delayed in reaching at least four medical emergencies, including an unconscious 91-year-old woman, because paramedics were stuck in the gridlock, according to a September 10 letter written by Paul Favia, (PDF) the head of the Office of Emergency Medical Services of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

The elderly woman later died, according to the Bergen Record newspaper, which cited borough records.

The woman went into cardiac arrest, according to the letter addressed to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The paramedics were in such a bind that they had to meet the ambulance on its way to the hospital instead of going to the scene, he wrote.

In another instance, emergency responders were dispatched to a motorcycle crash with injuries, according to the letter. It took nine minutes for the responders to get to the scene when it should have taken four, Favia wrote.

Favia actually joined EMS on that call on September 9 despite himself being stuck in traffic, which he managed to get out of by jumping a curb and cutting up another street, he wrote. Later that evening, because all ambulances were dispatched elsewhere, he responded to a call about someone having chest pains. It took Favia eight minutes to get to the scene because of standstill traffic, he wrote. He was eventually joined by another ambulance that was also delayed due to traffic tie-ups.

On Thursday at the three-story Fort Lee Memorial Municipal Building, life went on as usual amid one of the state's biggest political scandals. The center of Fort Lee civic life on Main Street has a small-town feel: People walk in and out freely, no security checkpoints or metal detectors.

The City Council chambers also serve as the local courthouse, where on Thursday, a municipal judge handled dozens of misdemeanors and traffic violations -- many stemming from traffic around the bridge.

Favia was there and tried to avoid the press as he moved around the building. "Welcome to my world," he told a co-worker as he dodged reporters.

'Time for some traffic problems'

A Republican who has been widely perceived as appealing to Republicans, Democrats and those in between, Christie was has often been talked about as a 2016 presidential contender.

Christie denied for months that anyone in his administration or campaign played any role in the closures.

On Wednesday, e-mails and texts emerged, suggesting that appointees of Christie's orchestrated the closures to punish Sokolich, a Democrat who wouldn't support Christie at the polls. Christie and his staff originally blamed the closures and the traffic delays on a mishandled traffic study.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, said in an e-mail to David Wildstein, then the highest-level appointee representing the state at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge connecting the two states.

"Got it," Wildstein replied.

In another message about school buses with students on board caught in the traffic jams, Wildstein wrote, "they are the children of Buono voters," apparently referring to Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic opponent in November's gubernatorial election.

Those cited in the messages did not respond to requests for comment or to verify the communications.

Apologies for 'thousands of families'?

The correspondence, subpoenaed by Democrats investigating the matter and spiced with tough Jersey political talk and expletives, is the most damaging evidence so far supporting their assertions that the move was orchestrated because Sokolich didn't endorse Christie for re-election.

"This is absolutely the lowest level of political venom that you could possibly even make up. It's a surreal experience," Sokolich told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday evening, adding that there should be a federal investigation into the issue over the closure's effect on interstate commerce.

The mayor said Christie should apologize to people affected by the traffic delay.

"Don't call me, but call the families who were waiting three, four times longer for emergency services when their loved ones were having heart palpitations or when their loved ones had extreme chest pains and were waiting or our ambulance corps to arrive," he said. "Do me a favor; call and apologize to thousands of families whose kids were late for the first day of school and the three or four days that ensued thereafter. Call our police department. Call our administrators in the school system that had to deal with this. Call the folks that had to deal with traffic Armageddon that week. Don't call me."

Twitterers raged about the political controversy, while tweets from the actual days of the traffic jam in show people simply being able to do nothing else while stuck in their cars but to tweet that fact.

Mick Duch tweeted "Helloooooo (@ George Washington Bridge w/ 5 others)" on September 9 at 8:38 a.m.; Shawn Bonneau tweeted "I'm at George Washington Bridge (New York, NY) w/ 2 others" at 7:29 a.m.; and at 11:48 a.m., a person named Ali tweeted, "This traffic on the George Washington bridge is cray cray."

A nightmarish commute

Claude Lewin was doing his usual rush-hour commute on September 13 when his typically slow-going ride ground to a halt. His commute went from 30 minutes to two hours and 15 minutes, according to the Bergen Record.

The newspaper reported that the the Port Authority reduced the number of tollbooths from three to one and narrowed traffic patterns toward two Fort Lee streets. That reduced three lanes to one, the newspaper said.

"Other than after the 9/11 attacks, I've never seen such a fiasco of delays at the inbound, upper-level part of the bridge," Mildred Van Zwaren of Ridgefield told the paper.

"Ludicrous!" Chuck Ciocco said, according to the report. "Chronic delays like these destroy one of the two main reasons that most of us moved to this area -- great schools and a short commute."

Keith Bendul, the Fort Lee Police Department chief, told the paper that the department first heard about the traffic change on a Monday morning, the first day of school. "Our parents now have to get up an hour and a half early to get their kids to class. We couldn't clear all the residual traffic until 11:30," he said.

Sokolich told the paper that he asked the Port Authority for a better explanation of what was going on.

"I've asked the Port for an explanation, but they haven't responded," he said. "I thought we had a good relationship. Now I'm beginning to wonder if there's something I did wrong. Am I being sent some sort of message?"

6 comments

  • Charles Kelly

    So he’s claiming that while it looks like he is a crooked, vindictive thug, he is really just a lovable but incompetent, moronic buffoon who does not know what the people who work in his own office and take orders directly from him are doing?

    Works for me.

  • 2econd

    just another example of a government out of control, doesnt matter what party you back, they are ALL crooked.

  • triplea

    Another member of the murda mobb, a elderly lady that needed immediate medical attention had that help delayed resulting in her death, and for what political gang wars? Now watch how all the subordinates take the fall and big boy does what all political gang members do, play dumb and unaware when their hands get caught in the cookie jar and from the looks of him, his hand is stationed in the jar. Smh

  • triplea

    I am grateful that politicians and their staff members possess a lower than average intellect, because had they conspired to do this face to face at a coffee shop there would be no tangible evidence to connect this vindictive act to big boy’s staff. But because the people that work in government tend to think they are untouchables, largely due to the lack of proper punishment for their acts and a lack of intellect, they always seem to plot their schemes on the internet. Are they dumb or the people who vote these people in office?

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