36 Years Ago

Just last night we were discussing this incident with some friends who had never heard of it before. Today I realized that this is the anniversary of Mary Jo Kopechne’s death.
From Wikkipedia:

During a party on Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969, Senator Kennedy drove a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off Dike Bridge (also spelled Dyke Bridge), a wooden bridge that is angled obliquely to an unlit road onto which he claimed to have made a wrong turn. The car plunged into tide-swept Poucha Pond (at that location a channel) and landed upside down under the water. The other occupant of the car, Mary Jo Kopechne, died; there is speculation about whether the other she drowned or suffocated. Kennedy returned on foot to the Lawrence Cottage where a party was in progress. Two other men, his cousin Joseph Gargan and party co-host Paul Markham then assisted him in trying to reach rescue Kopechne. All involved failed to use the telephone at the Lawrence Cottage to call the police for help. Kennedy discussed the accident with several people, including his lawyer, before he was contacted by the police. The next morning July 19, 1969 Police Chief Dominick Arena called the Senator from the closest house to the Dike Bridge rented at the time by the Malms. Senator Kennedy was given the news that his mother’s car had been involved in a fatal accident, indicating the authorities’ lack of awareness that Kennedy already knew of it. Kennedy had never reported the accident; instead, a science teacher and 15 year old boy fishing discovered Kennedy’s car the morning where the incident occurred. Kopechne’s body was discovered by diver John Farrar, who observed that a large amout of air was released from the car when it was righted in the water, and that the trunk, when opened, was remarkably dry. These observations and others lead many to believe that Kopechne had not drowned but suffocated in an air pocket within the Delmont 88 – in other words, that there had been ample time to rescue her. The diver John Farrar has stated that he was on call and available at the time of the accident.

Oddly, Bartleby’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy describes the “Chappaquiddick Incident” as “An automobile accident in 1969 that greatly affected the career of Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts.” I think it even more greatly affected the career of Mary Jo Kopechne, who isn’t even given a name in this entry. She is merely referred to as ‘a woman on Kennedy’s staff’ who ‘drowned.’ The entry also explains that voters lost confidence in Kennedy over this and that his presidential hopes were pretty much ended. Much like Mary Jo’s life, I guess.

Kennedy’s own report to the police (more than 8 hours after the accident) said this:

“The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom. I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car. I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car. I was unsuccessful in the attempt. I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I recall walking back to where my friends were eating. There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the back seat. I then asked for someone to bring me back to Edgartown. I remember walking around for a period of time and then going back to my hotel room. When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.”

“Immediately” meaning eight hours later, when he suddenly remembered that he’d forgotten about ditching a car with a girl in it in the lake. In order to walk back to his friends he passed at least four cottages in plain site, three of which had lights on, according to their owners.

As for going to get his friends to help- well, he was pretty particular about which friends he wanted to help.

“- When Kennedy arrived back at the cottage, he saw the white Valiant parked near the front door. The Senator testified that as he came up to the back of the vehicle, he saw Ray LaRosa. Kennedy made no mention of the accident to LaRosa, however, and instead told him to go get Joe Gargan and Paul Markham: the two lawyers.

– Kennedy climbed into the back seat of the car and waited. According to Gargan, when he and Markham came out, the Senator told them “There’s been a terrible

accident. The car’s gone off the bridge down by the beach, and Mary Jo is in it.”

LaRosa is the only member of the party who wasn’t drinking. He was a former fireman, so he had some emergency life saving training. Gargan and Markham were Kennedy’s lawyers.

Kennedy didn’t want to report the accident, and he argued with his lawyers about it. He tried to convince them to say that Mary Jo had been driving. They parted, the lawyers under the impression that Kennedy was going to go and report the accident. He didn’t. Remember, he was in shock. While in shock, he charged 17 telephone calls to his credit card.

The SEnator was married to somebody else at the time, and his wife was pregnant. She later miscarried.
He has continued to be elected, having now served longer than anybody except his fellow Democrat, the former Ku Klux Klan member, Senator Byrd.

Updated to add that ‘fellow Democrat line, just in case somebody did not know that

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