On this day in auto history - July 18th

Sun 18th Jul 2021

It was on this day in 1969 that high-profile US senator Ted Kennedy was involved in perhaps the most infamous single-vehicle car accident of all time on the small, Massachusetts peninsula of Chappaquiddick.

The 37-year-old younger brother of ill-fated US President John F. Kennedy, Ted himself had been touted as a potential presidential candidate. However, that all changed after what became known as the ‘Chappaquidick incident’ when a negligent Kennedy drove his car off a single-lane bridge into a tide-swept pond late at night.

Though Kennedy himself was able to freely swim to safety, his co-passenger - 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne - was tragically left alone to die in the incident.

The story quickly became a national scandal when it emerged that Kennedy had quickly fled the scene of the crash and inexplicably failed to report it until the following day. Kennedy's actions caused many to speculate that the senator had fled the scene because he was heavily under the influence of alcohol (a claim he denied).

Though Kennedy did plead guilty to a charge of 'leaving the scene of an accident, causing bodily injury', he received only a suspended sentence. Public outrage at the lenient sentence was later intensified when the scuba diver who eventually recovered Kopechne’s body, John Farrar, claimed she didn’t drown and would have been saved had Kennedy reported the incident at the earliest opportunity.

Though Kennedy continued to serve as senator until his death in 2009, the Chappaquidick scandal and its aftermath irrevocably harmed his public image and political career, exemplified by a crushing defeat to Jimmy Carter when he finally sought the Democratic nomination for a belated Presidential bid in 1980.