As Mr. Kennedy headed over to the police station, he told Messrs. Gargan and Markham: "Look, I don't want you people put in the middle on this thing. I am not going to involve you. As far as you know, you didn't know anything about the accident that night."
He arrived to discover that Police Chief Dominick J. Arena had been called to Dyke Bridge where a sunken auto had been reported.
Down at the bridge, a small crowd watched the chief help a scuba driver lift Mary Jo's body out of the car. She was found in the back seat in a position indicating she might have tried to breath a pocket of air trapped in the overturned vehicle.
A medical examiner at the scene determined that she drowned. Also in the back seat was the purse of fellow party-goer Rosemary Keough. This fact later led to unproved speculation that there was a third person in the car that night.
Senator Kennedy, while he waited for the chief at the station, called Mrs. Joseph Kopechne.
"Hello, Mrs. Kopechne. This is Ted Kennedy.I've got some sad news to tell you. Mary Jo has been in an accident."
"Was she killed."
The phone call, recounted later by Mr. Kennedy, is ended when a neighbor arrives at the Kopechne house after hearing the screams of Mrs. Kopechne, who had just been told she lost her only child.
At Poucha Pond, meanwhile, Chief Arena called his office from a house near the bridge. He is told Mr. Kennedy is at the station. They talked on the phone:
"I'm sorry about this; there's been an accident involving your car and somebody's died," the chief recalled.
"Was there anyone else in the car?"
Chief Arena quickly returned to the station.
"Has anyone contacted Mis Keough's relatives yet?" the chief asked.
"It was not Rosemary Keough. It was Mary Jo Kopechne, and I've already contacted her parents."
Then the senator said, "What would you like me to do? We must do what is right or we will both be criticized for it."
"Well, the first thing I would like is a written statement from you."
Then, Mr. Markham and Senator Kennedy were led into a private room where, for an hour, Mr. Markham wrote down the following account of the accident as told to him by Mr. Kennedy:
On July 18, 1969, at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Chappaquiddick Island, Martha's Vineyard, Mass., I was driving my car on Main Street on my way to get the ferry back to Edgartown. I was unfamiliar with the road and turned right onto Dyke Road instead of bearing hard left on Main Street. After proceeding for approximately one-half mile on Dyke Road, I descended a hill and came upon a narrow bridge. The car went off the side of the bridge. There was one passenger with me, one Miss Mary *[left blank because Kennedy did not know how to spell Kopechne], a former secretary of my brother, Senator Robert Kennedy. The car turned over and sank into the water and landed with the roof resting on the bottom. I attempted to open the door and the window of the car but have no recollection of how I got out of the car. I came to the surface and then repeatedly dove down to the car in an attempt to see if the passenger was still in the car. I was unsuccessful in the attempt. I was exhausted and in a state of shock. I recall walking back to where my friends were eating. There was a car parked in front of the cottage and I climbed into the back seat. I then asked someone to bring me back to Edgartown. I remember walking around for a period of time and then going back to my hotel room. When I fully realized what had happened this morning, I immediately contacted the police.m
The accident report contained no mention of the rescue attempt by Messrs. Gargan and Markham. The omission might have been considered a concealment of a material fact from police, an omission that Mr. Kennedy later regretted making.
The local supervisor of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, George W. Kennedy (no relation), arrived at the station about 11:30 a.m. after investigating the scene of the accident. He read the senator's statement, and told him that he had a right to remain silent. The supervisor asked him for more information.
"I have no comment," Mr. Kennedy replied.
Mr. Markham successfully convinced the chief to withhold the statement from the press until Senator Kennedy talked to his lawyer. With permission from Chief Arena, the senator left the island that afternoon in a private plane for his home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod.
At the time, neither the police or Supervisor Kennedy knew the party before the accident or of the rescue attempts by Messrs. Markham and Gargan. Those who were at the party left the island without being questioned by officials.
Over the next few days, Chief Arena decided that he could not charge Mr. Kennedy with involuntary manslaughter. The chief said later that it would have been difficult to prove that Senator Kennedy's driving was done with "wanton, willful, and reckless disregard," as required by law.
Instead, he and Edgartown prosecutor Walter E. Steele decided that Mr. Kennedy should be charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury. Negotiations began with Mr. Kennedy's lawyers, and an agreement was reached that the senator would plead guilty to that misdemeanor.
Senator Kennedy, meanwhile, spent six days in private council at the family compound. Those who flew in to help him and prepare a public response to questions about the incident included: Harvard Prof. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.; former US Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara; family business manager and present campaign manager Stephen Smith; Theodore Sorensen and richard Goodwin, speech writers for the Kennedys.
After a brief trip to attend Mary Jo Kopechne's funeral in Pennsylvania, the senator returned to Edgartown on July 25 to plead guilty to the misdemeanor. His lawyers asked that a jail sentence be suspended because "his charactor is well known to the world." District Court Judge James A. Boyle said Mr. Kennedy will "be punished far beyond anything this court can impose' incarceration. In addition, Mr. Kennedy's drivers license was revoked for one year.
In a 17-minute, emotional, well-crafted television speech July 26 to the people of Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy spoke out for the first time on the incident:
"Mary Jo was one of the most devoted members of the staff of Sen. Robert Kennedy. She worked for him for four years and was broken up over his death. For this reason, and because she was such a gentle, kind, and idealistic person, all of us tried to help her feel that she still had a home with the Kennedy family.
"There is no truth, no truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior and hers regarding that evening. There has never been a private relationship between us of any kind.
"I know of nothing in Mary Jo's conduct on that or any other occasion -- the same is true of the other girls at that party -- that would lend any substance to such ugly speculation about their character."m
In the television address, Mr. Kennedy called his behavior after the accident "indefensible" and "inexplicable" despite the cerebral concussion that his doctor said he suffered. Unlike his statement to police, he does not mention that he took a wrong turn.
"I was overcome, I'm frank to say, by a jumble of emotions, grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and shock."m
He asked Massachusetts voters to think "through with me" whether he should resign. Later, supposedly based on the response, he decided not to step down.
But the speech did not end the doubts about what quickly became known as "Chappaquiddick."
Under public pressure, Massachusetts District attorney Edmund Dinis arranged a court inquest into Mary Jo Kopechne's death.
After several months of delay caused by appeals of Kennedy lawyers insisting that the inquest be held in private, Dukes County District Court Judge James A. Boyle opened the proceedings on Jan. 5, 1970.
The partygoers and others involved in the incident gave testimony, but they were not strongly cross-examined. Their lawyers' fees were paid by Mr. Kennedy. Questions remain whether they might have been coached ahead of time to uphold a false story.
In his findings, Judge Boyle implied that Senator Kennedy lied under oath. He stated:
"I infer a reasonable and probable explanation of the totality of the above facts is that Kennedy and Kopechne did notm [judge's emphasis] intend to return to Edgartown at that time; that Kennedy did not intend to drive to the ferry slip, and his turn onto Dyke Road was intentional.
"A speed of even 20 miles per hour, as Kennedy testified to, operating a car as large as his Oldsmobile, would at least be negligent and, possibly, reckless. If Kennedy knew of this hazard, his operation of the vehicle constituted criminal conduct. . . .
"I believe it probable that Kennedy knew of the hazard that lay ahead of him on Dyke Road but that, for some reason not apparent from the testimony, he failed to exercise due care as he approached the bridge.
"I, therefore, find there is probably cause to believe that Edward M. Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently on a way or in a place to which the public have a right to access and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne."
The inquest testimony and the judge's findings were not released by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court until all possibilities of further legal action against the senator had passed.
In Dukes County, which includes Martha's Vineyard, a grand jury had tried to pursue an investigation of the accident.But presiding Superior Court Judge Wilfred J. Paquet, a Democrat, would not allow them to do so on grounds that no new information had been brought forth and that the jurors had no "personal knowledge" with which to go on, as required by law for a probe to begin. The grand jury disbanded before the inquest testimony was released on April 20, 1970 .
Senator Kennedy's response to Judge Boyle's conclusions was that they "are not justified and I reject them."
In a 1974 television interview, he went further in responding to the judge's conclusion that Mr. Kennedy did not intend to return to the ferry:
"The most important fact that he really left out ah, . . . and that is the fact about Mary Jo's ah, . . . character. . . . Anybody who knew Mary Jo ah . . . as I did and her friends did and her family ah . . . did would . . . would understand that was ah . . . that was not the case."
The senator later arranged a payment of $140,904 to the Kopechnes from his own money and an insurance company in compensation for their daughter's death. In interviews, Gwen and Joseph Kopechne have said they still do not know the whole story of Chappaquiddick.
And Senator Kennedy has not heard the last of it. He felt compelled to speak about the incident for five minutes during a half-hour campaign broadcast to New England television viewers Jan. 25, 1980:
"I've asked forgiveness long ago, especially from the Kopechne family. I know there are people who will never believe me, no matter what I say. I do ask you to judge me by the basic American standard of fairness, not on the basis of gossip and speculation."