The Chappaquiddick Incident: What Really Happened?



Upon researching the Chappaquiddick incident of July 1969, I consider it highly likely that the official version of events, as presented by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, are false. Moreover, that the reasons for these falsehoods stemmed from a desire to limit Kennedy’s political damage.

Based upon the eye witness testimony presented by Deputy Sheriff Huck Look, Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne left the Chappaquiddick cottage where a party was taking place, early in the morning of July 19th, 1969, at approximately 12:45a. Upon departing they traveled north on School House Road, crossed over the intersection of Chappaquiddick Road and Dike Road, then drove onto Cemetery Road and stopped. It was at this point that deputy Look noticed Kennedy’s large sedan.

Look turned onto School House Road and stopped to see if the sedan needed assistance. As he approached the sedan, it backed up near Look, then rapidly took off down Dike Road towards the eventual scene of the accident, a mere 2/3rds of a mile away.

This aggressive move on the part of Kennedy is consistent with a pattern of attempting to outrun law enforcement that was established while Kennedy was studying law at the University of Virginia. In fact, while a law student, Kennedy was arrested after attempting to outfox a police officer there.

Presumably the sedan traveled approximately ½ mile down Dike Road at a speed of around 35 mph. At that speed the distance would have been covered in about 48 seconds. Then, while out of sight of the deputy’s car, I surmise that Ted Kennedy got out of the car and told Mary Jo to continue on, the thought being that if the deputy followed, she would be stopped, and being alone, could feign being lost.

Moreover, it is also reasonable to assume that alcoholic beverages would have been in the car with Kennedy and Kopechne, therefore this brief stop also presented an opportunity for the alcohol to be removed at the same time—thereby, avoiding a politically damaging situation.

However, after speeding away at a speed approaching 40 mph, Mary Jo failed to negotiate the leftward veer onto Dike Bridge only 1200 feet—or about 24 seconds—down the road. This, of course, led to the large sedan plunging off the bridge and landing upside down on its roof in Poucha Pond. Notably, given the damage that the automobile sustained, it is highly likely the accident created a loud noise.

Considering the stillness and quiet of that night, it seems certain that Kennedy would have heard the accident. Upon hearing the accident, presumably Kennedy raced toward the crash, only to discover the car upside down in the pond. As to whether Kennedy attempted to gain entry into the vehicle to rescue Mary Jo, we’ll never know. Nonetheless, Kennedy could be certain that the deputy hadn’t followed them down Dike Road by this time.

After a period of time, Kennedy then walked back to the party cottage to alert Joe Gargan and Paul Markham of the accident. At this time, the three men drove back to the crash site where Gragan and Markham apparently attempted to gain entry into the submerged vehicle to ascertain whether Mary Jo was still inside and to affect a rescue if need be.

It is clear that during the gap between the crash and alerting Gargan and Markham of the crash, Kennedy was pondering how to respond. I believe he preferred to present a story whereby he wasn’t the driver and that he had been dropped off at the ferry by Mary Jo. However, by involving Gargan and Markham, this was no longer workable unless the two attorneys were willing to lie, which apparently, they were not.

This created a dilemma for Kennedy, after all he could not explain how it was that he ended up not being in the vehicle, without admitting to fleeing from the deputy. Ultimately, this put Kennedy in a position where he had to select among the lesser of two evils. That is to say, Kennedy would have to say he was driving, made a mistake, attempted to save Mary Jo, and all the rest.

The main things pointing against Kennedy being the driver come down to his selective recollections of how he got out of the car. Something clearly doesn’t add up when you hear Kennedy speak to his memories—or lack thereof. It is difficult to imagine he recalls certain details, then forgets others all together. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that upon nearly drowning, that Kennedy—apparently in a traumatized state—would have then swum the 500 feet from the Chappaquiddick ferry landing to Edgartown, as he has stated. In fact, according to Kennedy, he almost drowned a second time while making the swim to Edgartown.

Additionally, Kennedy’s initial statement presented to Edgartown Police Chief Dominick Arena, conspicuously makes no mention of the attempts of Gargan and Markham to save Mary Jo after being notified by Kennedy of the accident. This appears to suggest a measure of deception and an attempt to plausibly argue that his mind was “scrambled.” Whereas, it is clear given the full breadth of the communication with Gargan and Markham, that Kennedy was certainly aware of what had happened and was simply trying to construct a game plan to avoid as much political damage as possible.

In the end, it is notable that Kennedy only pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Indeed, it appears that this is actually the only thing Kennedy was guilty of once the accident occurredsave it be lying that he was behind the wheel at the time of the crash. After all, whether Kennedy was intoxicated or not, once he was out of the car, he is no longer driving while impaired, and certainly could not have caused the accident.

While not ideal, Kennedy stating he was the driver that night as his sedan plunged off Dike Bridge, provided the least politically damaging option. And, as history has shown, it was largely effective to the degree that it preserved his senate career, if not his presidential aspirations.