CHAPPAQUIDDICK; The ride
Senator Kennedy drove one-half mile on the rough asphalt road that leads to the ferry. He came to the T-shaped intersection where the main road banks to the left and the dirt road with a "washboard" surface goes right to Dyke Bridge.
Shortly before the intersection, there was a small diamond-shaped sign with an arrow indicating that traffic should curve to the left. The road's double-yellow lines were slightly faded.
The senator says he slowed to seven or eight miles per hour and took the turn to the right by mistake because he was "unfamiliar" with the road.
He also said he was not "generally aware" he was on an unpaved dirt road until, one-half mile farther, he came to the 20-year-old, narrow, hump-backed bridge which spans 80 feet over Poucha Pond, a tidal inlet.
Known as Dyke Bridge, this wooden structure is about 10 feet wide and set at a 27-degree angle to the left of the road. To cross it safely, a large car has to almost crawl. On the other side is a parking area and a sand path to the beach.
Both he and Miss Kopechne had been driven over the bridge earlier that day on their separate outings to the beach.
Did Mr. Kennedy really think that a right turn was the correct way back to the ferry? The senator could have been tired from a day of traveling, swimming, sailboat racing, and time in the sun. He had just eaten a steak dinner and was probably talking to Mary Jo Kopechne as he approached the turn. And for the first time that day, he -- rather than his chauffeur -- was driving the car. Thus, there is a possibility that he unintentionally made a wrong turn.
But why wouldn't he immediately notice that the road surface had changed from asphalt to dirt?
"The difference between paved and unpaved for anyone who lives on the cape or visits the islands . . . the roads are indistinguishable," he told CBS interviewer Roger Mudd last fall.
The record is not clear whether Senator Kennedy knew he was on the wrong road. Mr. Markham testified that the senator told him there was no place to turn around, even though there are several driveways along Dyke Road. But the senator testified that he did not know he was on the wrong road until he just before going over the bridge.
One significant challenge to Mr. Kennedy's account of the time he left the party came from the testimony of Christopher F. Look Jr., who had been a part-time deputy sheriff of Dukes County since 1953.
After getting off special guard duty about 12:25 a.m. at the Edgartown Yacht Club, and discussing that specific time with the club mananger, Mr. Look took a private boat across the harbor channel to Chappaquiddick where he lived. He got into his car at the ferry slip and drove the three miles to the corner where Senator Kennedy had missed the turn.
In testimony, the deputy sheriff said he saw a dark sedan pull into a dirt road known as Cemetary Lane and back up. Mr. Look said he got out of his car to see if he could help. He walked to within 15 feet of the vehicle before it accelerated down Dyke Road toward the bridge. But he noticed the car's Massachusetts license plate began with an "L" and had two "7's," the same as Senator Kennedy's (L78207).
"There appeared to a man driving and a woman in the front righthand side and also either another person or an object of clothing, a handbag or something, sitting on the back. It looked to me like an object of some kind," he testified.
He said it was a moonlit night and the car lights aided him in seeing the license. Mr. Kennedy testified that it was a dark night.
But here is Mr. Look's most damaging assertion: He says he arrived at the corner about 12:45 a.m. while the senator says he was there just after 11:15 p.m. (One proposed theory, which contradicts Mr. Kennedy's testimony, is that the seantor was in the car at this time and stopped half-way down the dirt road to get out and hide in case the law officer might follow. He then, the theory holds, asked Mary Jo to drive on, leading her to plunge off the bridge alone.)
The next morning, when Mr. Look was called to the scene of the accident along with others, he watched the black sedan being pulled out of the pond. Immediately, he recognized it and told those around him that it was the car he encountered several hours earlier.
If Mr. Look's account is correct, it goes against Mr. Kennedy's statement that he was headed for the ferry before it closed at midnight. And it also cast doubts on the time given for the rescue attempts by Mr. Kennedy's two associates. In response to Mr. Look's testimony, Mr. Kennedy said: "I know he is mistaken. The way of resolving it is that he saw a different car."
At whatever time he headed down Dyke Road, Senator Kennedy says he hit the bridge at a speed later determined by state inspectors to be about 20 to 22 miles per hour. The car fell off the unguarded bridge to the right, flipped over, and landed on its roof. Two windows shattered and the car's occupants sank with it, eight feet under Poucha Pond.
Almost all of Senator Kennedy's actions during the next nine hours can be seen as either (1) those of a man understandably confused and made callous by trauma, or (2) a man inexcusably and coldly calculating to save his reputation by containing a crisis.
Or perhaps both.