Sen. Ted Kennedy seemed likely to be president one day, until a Chappaquiddick incident, – a party, a bridge,a submerged car, and a death seemed to change that, forever.
The gathering of Ted Kennedy and five male friends was on first appearance not something memorable. No one’s wife was present, yet six female government workers were — one of whom would die hours later in a tragic accident while others partied at the Lawrence Cottage.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, Brother to President J.F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy
The Kennedys as brothers and family were noted for their competitiveness, athleticism, wealth, politics, fondness for brew, and fun times. The deaths of both J.F.K and Robert Kennedy, Attorney General and presidential candidate, were tragic events in the Kennedy family — Chappaquiddick would add another tragedy.
The Kennedys were always influential in Massachusetts. The savvy patriarch, Joe, assisted his son JFK to win a U.S. Senate seat. Soon thereafter, JFK became president, only to be assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Robert (Bobby) Kennedy became U.S. Congressman and later, Attorney General of the U.S., serving in J.F.K.’s administration. He, too, was assassinated in 1968 while running for the presidency.
The Chappaquiddick Event, Tragic Accident, Car Crashes Into the Bay, Kennedy Escapes, Woman Drowns
The weekend regatta celebration and gathering at Chappaquiddick was one of close political friends and aides. Ted Kennedy enjoyed weekend parties. July 18, 1969, 11:15 PM, Ted Kennedy offered Ms. Kopechne a ride for the Ferry to Edgartown, but Kennedy took a sharp right turn onto unpaved Dike Road which led to a secluded beach accessed by a bridge.
As told later by Kennedy these events ensued:
- Kennedy made a wrong turn to go to the Ferry, a sharp right, proceeding on paved main road.
- The car went several hundred feet down Dike Road, toward the beach. Kennedy lost control at a narrow bridge, the car jumped the timber curb, plunged into the Poucha Pond, rotated and turned upside down, and angled into shallow waters with its lights on.
- Kennedy testified he escaped and dove multiple times to retrieve Ms. Kopechne to no avail.
- He stated he returned to the cottage and summoned his cousin, lawyer Joe Gargin and a friend to assist to get Kopechne out of the car, They dove for over 45 minutes and were unsuccessful.
- Gargin told Kennedy they must report the accident. Kennedy said he would do it at Edgartown when he returned to the hotel. Overcome by panic, fear, confusion he swam across the tidal channel, returning to his hotel room at the Shiretown Inn at 2 AM.
- In the morning, he ferried back to Chappaquiddick, and only then did he report the accident.
Senator Kennedy’s Tragic Accident, A Strange Case with Many, Unanswered Questions
Senator Kennedy at the Inquest testified to strange behavior over a period of 10 hours. Investigators ask why Kennedy –
- left the cottage by car with M.J. Kopechne to catch a Edgartown Ferry that was no longer running.
- went back to the cottage and informed only his cousin lawyer, Joe Gargin and one other without informing the party.
- said he would report the accident, swam to Edgartown, checked back into his room at the Shiretown Inn, but did not report the accident.
- ferried back to Chappaquiddick in the A.M., and then reported the accident.
- notified authorities so late and thus delayed rescue and investigative assistance.
Chappaquiddick, Senator Kennedy, Mary Jo Kopeckne Findings, Conclusions, Mysteries
This story did not have a happy ending. Ms. Kopechne was found dead. Asphyxiation, rather than drowning, was likely. The car’s position had caused a trapped air pocket right near Kopechne for her possible brief survival.
Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. His driver’s license was suspended for 1 year and he received a 2-month suspended jail sentence. He kept his senate seat and has served, now for almost 47 years ( in his 8 th, 6 year term). The Kopechne family denied an autopsy, and reportedly received an unknown settlement by the Kennedy estate. In 1980, Ted Kennedy ran unsuccessfully for nomination as the presidential candidate for the Democrat Party. He considered a challenge later, but two brothers’ assassinations, increasing family obligations, and some say the ghost Chappaquiddick, caused him never again to run for a presidential nomination.
Kennedy served only occasionally in the U.S. Senate, as he struggles with an aggressive brain tumor. Edward Kennedy is known as one of the most liberal Senate Democrats, and a fighter for his state’s share of Federal funding. He has strong and special advocating in Education and Health Care and will be long remembered for vigorous legislative battles and those bills which became law under his direction and influence.
Senator Kennedy died on August 25, 2009 at the Kennedy Compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
- Damore, Leo. 1988. Senatorial Privilege. Dell Publishing, N.Y., N.Y.
- Rust, Zad. 1982. Teddy Bare, The Last of the Kennedy Clan. Western Island, Belmont, Mass.