In the early morning hours of July 19, 1969, a black Oldsmobile sedan turned down a narrow dirt road and careened away in a cloud of dust. As the car approached a wooden bridge that sat at an oblique angle to the road, it failed to slow. Too late, the driver realized his error. The car dropped over the side of the bridge, turned over and plunged into the Poucha Pond.
The driver escaped the overturned and water-filled car. A 28-year-old female passenger did not. What followed doomed the Presidential aspirations of 37-year-old Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy.
Only Kennedy knew exactly what happened in the hours following the accident. He apparently took the truth with him to the grave. But this much has been gleaned from investigations into the accident:
- Kennedy was hosting a reunion party on Chappaquiddick Island for a group of six women (the “Boiler Room Girls”), including Mary Jo Kopechne, who had served in Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Presidential campaign. Chappaquiddick is connected via ferry to the town of Edgartown, Mass., which is located on Martha’s Vinyard.
- When he announced he was leaving the party, Kennedy claims Kopechne asked if he would drive her to her hotel room.
- Kopechne left her purse and hotel key at the party.
- Between 12:30 and 12:45 a.m., a black car containing a man and a woman were seen by a sheriff’s deputy exiting a private road onto Dike Road. The deputy said the car’s license plate began with the letter L and contained two 7s. The license plate on Kennedy’s Oldsmobile began with the letter L and contained two 7s.
- Kennedy claims he took a wrong turn while trying to get to the ferry, even though the road to the ferry is paved and the road that led over the bridge was not.
- Kennedy escaped from the car and swam to the shore, where he says he called Kopechne’s name several times.
- Kennedy claims he then tried several times to rescue Kopechne, to no avail.
- He says he walked back to Lawrence Cottage where the party was being held, but did not see any houses to use to call for help, even though he passed several along the way.
- When he arrived at the cottage he did not call authorities for help. Instead, he summoned his cousin Joseph Gargan and friend Paul Markham to go with him back to the accident site to see if they could locate Kopechne.
- When their rescue efforts failed, they drove to the ferry landing. Gargan and Markham told Kennedy the accident had to be reported, but Kennedy told them not to tell the other “girls” about the accident and that he would take care of it. Kennedy then dove into the water and swam the 500-foot channel to Edgartown.
- He returned to his hotel room, removed his wet clothes and went to bed.
- Kennedy claims he was awakened by noises outside his room at about 2:30 a.m. and he got up and put on dry clothes and began to toss and turn and walk about the room.
- At 2:55 a.m., he complained to hotel staff about the noise.
- At about 8 a.m., Gargan and Markham joined Kennedy at the hotel where the three had a “heated conversation” about Kennedy’s refusal to report the accident.
- At about the same time, two amateur fishermen spotted the overturned car in the water. They notified authorities at 8:20 a.m.
- Edgartown Police Chief James Arena arrived a few minutes later and tried to examine the interior of the car. Unable to do so, he called a professional diver, John Farrar, who arrived at 8:45 a.m.
- Farrar located Kopechne’s body and pulled it from the car within 10 minutes. Farrar would later testify that the position of Kopechne’s body indicated she had survived the crash and had lived for two to four hours in the car by breathing from a pocket of air. According to Farrar, Kopechne would have survived if he’d been summoned immediately after the accident.
- When Kennedy heard police had found the car, he went to the police station, arriving about 10 a.m., made a couple of telephone calls and then dictated a statement to give to police — a statement in which Kennedy revealed little of what actually transpired.
- The medical examiner ruled that Kopechne died of drowning, but no autopsy was performed. She was buried the next day.
- The Koephne family received a payment of $90,904 from Kennedy and a $50,000 payout from insurance.
Kennedy later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury and prosecutors agreed to Kennedy’s request that a jail sentence be suspended owing to Kennedy’s age, character and prior reputation. Judge James Boyle ruled that there was probable cause that Kennedy had committed a crime, but declined to issue an arrest warrant. District Attorney Edmund Dinnis chose not to prosecute him for manslaughter. And then, Boyle even had the temerity to claim that Kennedy “has already been, and will continue to be punished far beyond anything this court can impose.”
In reality, it was Americans who were punished. It showed that equal protection under the law is a fairy tale. The people of Massachusetts continued to re-elect Kennedy to the Senate until his death in 2009. And although Kennedy couldn’t overcome the accident to become President, he became one of the Democratic Party’s leading Senators and used his influence and power to force upon Americans a number of egregious statist policies and laws, not the least of which is Obamacare.
During hearings in the run-up to Obamacare’s passage, Democrats repeatedly used the “Kennedy card” to tug at the heartstrings of lawmakers. Kennedy had often called socialized medicine the cause of his life.