CHAPPAQUIDDICK

About 1 p.m. on Friday, July 18, 1969, a plane carrying US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy landed on Martha's Vineyard, a large island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. He was met by his chauffeur, John B. Crimmins, and they climbed into a black 1967 Oldsmobile sedan.

The senator was driven to the island of Chappaquiddick.

For the next 24 hours, events on that island would alter the political future of the 37-year-old US senator and cause the death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a Washington secretary.

Few, if any, of the accounts from those involved in Chappaquiddick have changed significantly in the decade since that night when Senator Kennedy's car plunged off Dyke Bridge and he failed to report for 10 hours.

Few, if any, of the investigations into the incident have turned up enough evidence to conclusively show that Mr. Kennedy lied about the events, if indeed he has.

Few, if any, of the public opinion pools over the years indicated Senator Kennedy would be denied popular support for the presidency because of Chappaquiddick -- until he actually ran. His recent string of losses in the primaries is attributed to lack of "trust" by voters.

And few, if any, of Mr. Kennedy's statements about Chappaquiddick do not include comments about the loss and grief that came out of it.

Public perception of the incident has gone along two lines: (1) that this was an unfortunate but necessary lesson for a promising political leader to learn or; (2) that it is one reason not to support Senator Kennedy in his bid to be president.

Either way, Chappaquiddick remains a puzzling incident. A number of theories have been put forth alleging events differ from the testimony given at a court hearing six months after the incident.

The lingering questions include: Was Mr. Kennedy drunk while driving? What was his relationship with Mary Jo Kopechne? Did something else happen that night which has been carefully concealed with lies for more than 10 years?

If the Kennedy account is true, however, then the most crucial question arising out of Chappaquiddick is whether the Massachusetts senator, if elected to the White House, might commit similar errors in judgment as he did on July 18 and 19, 1969.

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