The most famous case of driving while intoxicated, or DWI, occurred so far in the past that most of today’s gen X’ers (not to mention gens Y and Z) have never heard of it. For the Boomers and their peer groups, however, it stands as a beacon of what not to do when driving drunk with a passenger when the vehicle leaves the road.
The case is known as the Chappaquiddick Incident, and involves now-deceased Edward Moore “Ted” Kennedy, former President John Kennedy’s youngest brother and a charismatic politician in his own right.
Ted Kennedy became a senator in the 1962 special election to replace his brother, John, who had been elected America’s 35th president in the 1960 election. Serving as the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy quickly climbed the ladder of success until July 18, 1969.
At that time, he was 37, married (to Virginia Joan Bennett) and with three children – the youngest, Patrick, just two – when the car he was driving went off a bridge over Poucha Pond, which was actually part of a tidal channel on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts.
He managed to free himself from the vehicle and left the scene, leaving behind Mary Jo Kopechne, a political campaign specialist who (he said) had asked him for a ride to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown where she was staying. She was not discovered until the next morning, and investigators grew instantly suspicious when they learned that Kopechne had left her purse and keys behind.
Initially, and over his lifetime, Kennedy insisted that he had not been drinking, and that he was not in an illicit relationship with Kopechne. He did plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, however, and was given a two-month sentence, which was almost immediately suspended.
The Chappaquaddick Incident is, most pundits believe, the reason Ted Kennedy was never able to follow in the presidential footsteps of his big brother, John. Public intoxication leading to manslaughter is never a good recipe for political success.
The Most Famous DUI (Driving Under the Influence)
The car crash that killed Princess Diana, probably the most-loved royal in recent history, is famous only because Princess Di was killed.
The driver of the limousine in which she died was Henri Paul, who witnesses said was drunk at the time he got behind the wheel. Henri Paul was a French security officer who worked at the Ritz Hotel where Princess Di had been staying. Also killed was Dodi Al Fayed, Princess Di’s boyfriend and the son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed. To this day, Al-Fayed insists that the accident was in fact a murder, by one or more people with racist leanings who were outraged by the princess’s public appearances with a man of Arabic extraction.
In support of this contention, in 2004 two Scottish forensic pathologists from Glasgow University also contended that the deaths were not caused by drunken driving. They concluded that the blood sample tested by French police, on which the disposition rested, was not that of Henri Paul, and that the levels of carbon monoxide found in Paul’s lungs would have made it impossible to walk, let alone drive.
Theorizing that Paul’s blood sample had been inadvertently adulterated (or confused) with blood from the victim of a house fire who died of smoke inhalation, the two pathologists concluded that the Al Fayed family video – which showed Henri walking normally a few hours before his death rather than staggering as he would have if under the influence of alcohol – might be accurate if only someone could figure out how Paul got so much carbon monoxide in his blood.
If Paul’s blood sample was not altered, the high amount of carbon monoxide could easily have happened if he drove through the tunnel with his window down. Professor Venezis, one of the two pathologists, has continued to insist that the Paul blood sample was contaminated.
Male v Female DWIs
It’s coincidental that two of recent history’s most memorable cases of drunk driving involve women as victims, because as a rule women are less likely to drink and drive than men (or at least less likely to get caught doing so).
In the late 1980s, women represent a mere 9 percent of total DWI charges. By 2007, that figure had increased to 29 percent, deflating the notion that DWI and DUI were largely male problems.
By the same token, the number of women in jail for DWI has risen yearly. For example, in 1983 they represented a meager 5 percent. By 1996, that had risen to 7 percent. The prevalence of females involved in fatal crashes also rose from 12 percent in the 1980s to 14 percent in 2000.
Is there a famous DUI story that you think should have been mentioned or do you have a story that has personally impacted you?
About the Author:
Andrew Miller is a passionate member of the End Ecocide movement, an avid blogger, environmental law student and co-founder of the tech startup Scan & Ban (www.ScanandBan.com); a free mobile app developed to empower the public to find out what toxins are in their food and pass legislature to ban those dangerous ingredients.