I was watching TV with my grandmother back in 1980 and a commentator was discussing Democratic candidate Ted Kennedy’s presidential chances when my grandmother said, “He would have been president already if he hadn’t killed that girl.”
Trying to appear hip and knowledgeable, I simply nodded my head at first. Then my curiosity got the best of me so I finally asked, “What girl?”
On July 18th, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy was giving a lift to one of his late brother Robert’s office aids, 28 year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. The pair was returning from a party on Chappaquiddick Island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard when Senator Kennedy’s car turned right instead of left, skidded off the Dike Bridge and submerged upside-down in Poucha Pond. Kennedy freed himself from the car but could not save Kopechne.
The ensuing scandal was most simply a result of the fact that, although Kennedy informed his aides of the accident almost immediately, he did not report the accident to the authorities until the following morning after the overturned car and Kopechne’s body had been discovered.
Kennedy claimed to have been drinking the night of the accident and subsequently blamed drinking for the accident itself.
A week after the incident, Kennedy pleaded guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident and got a two-month suspended sentence.
Personally, despite rumors of an alleged pregnancy-murder cover-up, I think that Mary Jo Kopechne’s death was actually an accident; one that probably haunted Senator Kennedy, who died this past Tuesday, for the remainder of his life. The incident was certainly, as my grandmother had suggested, the number one reason that any presidential run by the Senator was doomed from the door.
The only additional point I’d like to make here is that as foolish as it is to fight dogs or buy guns or shoot yourself in the leg, there are always far more tragic mistakes that could be made.