Today the nation mourns the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, the last surviving brother of the famous Kennedy family. Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor after suffering seizures in 2008.
While he will be remembered as the most influential of all senators in U.S. history, some will choose to remember Mr. Kennedy as the man who stood by and did nothing while a 28-year-old teacher drowned.
On July 18, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne attended a party in honor of his late brother Robert Kennedy on Chappaquiddick island, near Martha’s Vineyard. Some time before midnight, Mary left the party with Robert’s younger brother Teddy, who offered to drive her to catch a ferry back to the mainland. Teddy, who was drunk, made a wrong turn (so he said) and the two ended up on a narrow unlit bridge with no guardrails.
Some believe that Kennedy, who was 37 at the time, drove over the bridge to find a secluded spot to have sex with the young campaign worker. The bridge was in the opposite direction from the ferry.
Somehow, Kennedy drove the car off the bridge and they landed upside down in the dark, murky waters. Kennedy was able to free himself and swim safely to shore. But Kopechne, who was too drunk to swim, drowned in the submerged car.
This unfortunate accident would have been tucked neatly away in Teddy’s past were it not for his attempts to protect his good family name. Instead of contacting the police, Kennedy contacted several campaign aides and nothing more was said about the accident until police found Kopechne’s body the next morning. It would be hours later before the car was connected to Ted Kennedy and he finally reported the accident.
Kennedy eventually pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. And because he was a Kennedy, he received a two month suspended sentence. Kennedy’s actions forever damaged his reputation and ruined his chances of being elected president of the United States.
Ted Kennedy died yesterday at age 77. Mary Jo Kopechne would have been 68.