Chappaquiddick (and a Senator)


A movie just released to the public, titled "Chappaquiddick", presents a version of events that linked now deceased Ted Kennedy, a former US senator representing Massachusetts, to the drowning of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, on Chappaquiddick Island. I read that the movie itself did not do well at that box office, so far. Nevertheless, based on police and court documents, I reflected on the drowning incident after visiting Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick a few years ago.

There is an island called Chappaquiddick. It is really a kind of sandy marshland that butts up against the larger vineyard -- that is, Martha's Vineyard, separated in two places by only a narrow ocean channel that can be swam or crossed by either a relatively short span of bridge or ferry ride. It is a well known landmark in the US solely because of the scandal-tainted tragedy that unfolded when a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, was discovered trapped and expired in a crashed vehicle (Oldsmobile) submerged in the shallow channel.

US Senator Ted Kennedy, by most accounts, had been in the same car the night before and was assumed to have driven into the channel (Poucha Pond), to have attempted unsuccessfully to rescue the young woman, to have then left the scene in shock, to have forgotten about what happened, and eventually to have been charged by police for various relatively minor indiscretions such as leaving the scene of an accident. State Police detectives George Killen and Bernie Flynn were assigned by the district attorney's office to investigate the accident.

"Huck", a police officer on the island that night, saw a car with two passengers who appeared to have lost their way onto a dirt by-road.

Detective Flynn mentions "Huck" in a report that eventually put together a scenario for the accident; a verbatim account below that largely was either discredited (by Ted and supporters) or not taken seriously by key officials:

"I figure,we've got a drunk driver, Ted Kennedy. He's with this girl, and he has it in his mind to go down to the beach and make love to her. He's probably driving too fast and he misses the curve and goes into Cemetery Road. He's backing up when he sees this guy in uniform coming toward him. That's panic for the average driver who's been drinking; but here's a United States Senator about to get tagged for driving under the influence. He doesn't want to get caught with a girl in his car, on a deserted road late at night, with no license and driving drunk on top of it. In his mind, the most important thing is to get away from the situation."

"He doesn't wait around. He takes off down the road. He's probably looking in the rear-view mirror to see if the cop (Huck) is following him. He doesn't even see the f---ing bridge and bingo! He goes off. He gets out of the car; she doesn't. The poor son of a bitch doesn't know what to do. He's thinking: 'I want to get back to my house, to my friends' - which is a common reaction."