The Chappaquiddick Incident: The Death of Mary Jo Kopechne
A defining point in Edward Kennedy's life was the Chappaquiddick Incident, which refers to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who was in the car with Ted Kennedy. Mary Jo Kopechne was the late Robert F. Kennedy's former secretary, who was traveling in a car with Ted Kennedy on the way home from a party on Martha's Vineyard when the car drove off a bridge into the water. (Chappaquiddick map)
The black sedan was in flight. It hit the water and sank, settling upside down in the pond.
The next thing Kennedy knew was that he was going to die.
"There was complete blackness," he said later, according to a court transcript. "Water seemed to rush in from every point, from the windshield, from underneath me, above me."
Edward Kennedy walked away from the crash, but Mary Jo Kopechne did not. Edward Kennedy then walked back to the cottage where the party was being held, at which point he did not the police, nor the next morning did witnesses at his hotel notice that anything seemed amiss.
Only when the body was actually recovered from the crash did Ted Kennedy call the police; later that evening he gave a televised statement. Initially, it was not reported that Edward Kennedy was the driver of the car.
Hanging over the whole incident was the presence of blood on Mary Jo Kopechne's clothing that was not considered consistent with death by drowning, but no autopsy was performed, and requests for exhumation of Mary Jo Kopechne's body were opposed by her family.
The inquest, held privately, concluded that Mary Jo Kopechne died due to Ted Kennedy's reckless driving, though her family never brought charges against the senator. Ted Kennedy did not end up resigning over the Chappaquiddick Incident, but it ruined his chances at a 1972 presidential run, though he would attempt it years later.