January 13, 2006

"I'm Going To Say Mary Jo Was Driving"

We pick up the story at approximately 1:45 a.m. July 19, 1969, approximately one hour after Senator Kennedy drove his car off the bridge at Chappaquiddick. Mary Jo Kopechne was still in the car, underwater, possibly even still alive. The following narrative is based on the information in the book Senatorial Privilege, by Leo Damore, and is as related by the two men who were with Sen. Kennedy about 45 minutes after the car went into the water, friends Joseph Gargan and Paul Markham, and from testimony by other witnesses.

The timing of the post is based on my feeling that a history refresher is useful periodically. Like today.

1:45 a.m.

- Joe Gargan, Paul Markham, and Senator Kennedy arrived at the ferry landing and parked the car facing Edgartown. During their drive from the bridge, Gargan had been insistent: "We have got to report this accident immediately," he had said repeatedly. Markham agreed, interjecting an occasional, "You're right, Joe."

- Markham did not enjoy the same position of authority with Ted Kennedy that Gargan did, and because he "was really in pain, he wasn't being as forceful as I was about reporting the accident," Gargan recalled.

- The Senator was silent during these discussions, but it was clear to Gargan that he did not want to report the accident at this time.

- Kennedy began expressing alternate ideas about the situation:

- "Why couldn't Mary Jo have been driving the car? Why couldn't she have let me off, and driven to the ferry herself and made a wrong turn?"

- Kennedy asked to be brought back to the cottage to establish the story. After a while he would leave.

- Kennedy suggested that when he was back at the Shiretown Inn, Gargan could "discover" the accident and report to police that Mary Jo had been alone in the car.

- Gargan vigorously rejected the idea. "None of us knew Mary Jo very well," he said,"and we had no idea if she could drive a car, or even owned a license. And besides," he reminded Kennedy, "You told me you were driving!"

- Gargan doubted that he could persuade the girls at the party to allow Mary Jo to take the blame for the accident, and reminded Kennedy that their rescue efforts at the bridge may have attracted the attention of a witness who could place the Senator at the scene of the accident. Making a false report to police required an intricate web of lies, and Gargan would be risking his integrity and reputation as a lawyer. Should he be found out, he said,"I could lose my license to practice law."

- To drive home the importance of reporting the accident,Gargan invoked the name of Bobby Kennedy as a reminder of the responsibility the Senator bore to his brother's ideals. When they were boys, Bobby had spent so much time with Ted, telling him "Be disciplined. Be courageous. Meet every challenge with what ability you have." What Bobby would advise, Gargan was certain, would be to take responsibility and report the accident immediately.

- " There was constant pressure on my part, saying it over and over," Gargan said."You have to report the accident at once!"

2:00 AM

- The discussion eventually reached a stalemate. Gargan knew that a public phone was available right there at the ferry house, because he had used it the day before. He did not want to use it now however, because "I was expecting to go to the police station with the Senator to report the accident - once we got the story together."

- "I was saying it over and over, " Gargan said, "You have to report the accident immediately!"

- The Senator remained silent, apparently unmoved by Gargan's arguments, and clearly still opposed to reporting the accident. Gargan's nagging was wearing thin, however, and finally Kennedy had had enough. He said sharply, "All right, all right, Joey! I'm tired of listening to you. I'll take care of it. You go back. Don't upset the girls. Don't get them involved."

- Kennedy bolted from the car, dove into the water, and started swimming toward Edgartown. Gargan and Markham leapt from the car in astonishment. Gargan was furious. The Senator's departure was completely unexpected. "Our conversation was cut short," Gargan said. "The Senator simply left, and nothing had been decided."

- The two men watched Kennedy swim beyond the mid-point of the channel. The Senator's final statement had been "reasonably clear," Gargan said. "He was going to report the accident, and I was going to take care of the girls." They got in the car and started driving back to the cottage.

- On the way to the cottage, Gargan had second thoughts. He wasn't sure it was a good idea for Kennedy to deal with the situation alone. He said to Markham,"I think one of us should be with him. We'd better go back to the ferry landing, and I'll swim across."

- When they got back to the landing, there was no sign of Kennedy in the water. Apparently he had made it across. Gargan "seriously considered swimming to Edgartown to make sure the Senator was going to do what he had clearly said he was going to do." He chose not to, however, and trusted that Kennedy would keep his word and "take care of it."

- Gargan and Markham drove back to the cottage.

7:00 a.m.

- Mrs. Frances Stewart was the desk clerk on duty in the lobby of the Colonial Inn, located next door to the Shiretown Inn. She recalled that Senator Kennedy had come in and asked her to reserve The Boston Globe and The New York Times for him. "By the way," he said, "could I borrow a dime? I seem to have left my wallet upstairs." She produced a dime from the desk's cash drawer.

- Mrs. Stewart recalled that the Senator was freshly shaven and dressed in "yachting clothes." He appeared "normal in every way" when he walked outside to the porch and the inn's only public telephone.

7:20 a.m.

- Gargan had left the cottage in time to catch the first ferry. Markham and Charles Tretter went with him, as well as Rosemary Keough and Susan Tannenbaum, who wanted to go back to their rooms at the Katama Shores Motor Inn...

7:35 AM

- Gargan parked the car at the landing, and the group took the ferry to Edgartown. As they hurried toward the Shiretown Inn, Gargan made a determination "based on instinct" that the accident had not been reported.

- Gargan and Markham parted company with the others when they reached the stairway leading to the second-floor porch outside Richards' room. Gargan said "We'll see you."

- Rosemary Keough recalled looking up and seeing Senator Kennedy standing on the porch outside Ross Richards' room....

- After a sleepless night of mounting anxiety, Gargan became furious when he'd looked up from the bottom of the stairs to see Ted Kennedy posturing on the porch, chatting unconcernedly with the others, pretending there was nothing wrong. From what he saw, it was clear to Gargan that the Senator hadn't reported the accident.

- It was obvious to Markham too, "That nothing had been done; there was no commotion."

- In an uncharacteristically loud and coarse manner, Gargan demanded to speak to Kennedy in his room at once. "I'd like to see you right now! Get in there!" he bellowed.

- As the Senator left, Ross Richards asked that he join him for breakfast. Kennedy said he couldn't right now, but he "might" join him later.

- In 1988, Joe Gargan revealed to author Leo Damore what was discussed that morning in the Senator's room:

- Kennedy told Gargan and Markham that after he had swum the channel, he had slipped into the Shiretown Inn unseen, changed clothes and established his presence by asking an employee patrolling the premises the time. He had gone to bed and awakened around 7 o'clock. He had betrayed no sign of having been involved in an automobile accident to a number of witnesses. It wasn't too late for the scenario he had proposed to be put into effect. It wouldn't be difficult to convince people he hadn't known about the accident until the next morning.

- The Senator expected the incident to have been "taken care of " when Gargan and Markham showed up the next morning, that Gargan would have reported the accident and told the police that Mary Jo Kopechne had been driving the accident car. The Senator had counted on Gargan to realize, after an hour or so had passed and nobody showed up at the cottage, that he had no choice but to report the accident. It was, after all, the kind of clean-up detail Gargan customarily performed as advance man, a dependency that went back to the "Joey'll fix it" days of their boyhood. So long as there was a chance Gargan would reconsider his objections to the plan, the Senator had not reported the accident himself.

- Gargan was mortified by the Senator's motive for swimming the channel: to force him to follow a course he had made clear he wanted followed, irrespective of Gargan's objections. That the accident had not been reported was bad enough. For the Senator to have misrepresented his intentions by subterfuge, saying he was going to report the accident and then not doing so, and start putting an alibi into play only compounded the tragedy.

8:45 AM

- Gargan said "This thing is worse now than it was before. We've got to do something. We're reporting the accident right now!"

- Kennedy said "I'm going to say that Mary Jo was driving."

- "There's no way you can say that!" Gargan said. "You can be placed at the scene. Jesus! We've got to report this thing. Let's go."

- Kennedy was reluctant to do so, Markham observed. "He was still stuck on the idea of having Mary Jo driving the car."

These days, Ted Kennedy has a dog named "Splash". Seriously, he does.

Posted by dan at January 13, 2006 12:57 AM