Patrick Kennedy’s Mysterious Car Crash
Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the 38-year-old son of Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, crashed his car early yesterday while impaired by a foreign substance.
Representative Patrick J. Kennedy crashed his car into a traffic barrier on Capitol Hill in the early morning hours on Thursday. He said he was apparently disoriented because he had been taking Ambien, the sleeping pill, and another medication.
Mr. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, said he drove to the Capitol at about 2:45 a.m. in the mistaken belief that he needed to vote. The House was not in session, having adjourned at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
Mr. Kennedy, the 38-year-old son of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, issued a statement saying he had been involved in a traffic accident at First and C Streets S.E. near the Capitol. “I consumed no alcohol prior to the incident,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I will fully cooperate with the Capitol police in whatever investigation they choose to undertake.”
Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, said a police union official had written a letter to the Capitol police chief asserting that Mr. Kennedy appeared to be staggering when he left his car. But, it said, police officers at the scene were not allowed by their supervisors to perform a sobriety test. Roll Call quoted the letter as saying Capitol police officials gave Mr. Kennedy a ride home.
Capitol police officers said the handling of the case created at least an appearance that Mr. Kennedy had received special treatment. He denied the suggestion. “At the time of the accident, I was instructed to park my car and was driven home by the United States Capitol police,” Mr. Kennedy said. “At no time did I ask for any special consideration.”
Mr. Kennedy was the only person in the car and was not injured, his press secretary, Robin Costello, said.
The congressman said he had also been taking Phenergan, an anti-nausea medication, as well as Ambien. Phenergan is sometimes used as an antihistamine, a sedative or a sleep aid. Mr. Kennedy said both drugs had been prescribed by the attending physician of the Capitol, who cares for lawmakers and their aides. He said he received the Phenergan this week as treatment for a gastrointestinal disorder. He said the Ambien had been “prescribed by the attending physician some time ago” as a sleep aid.
Reuters has a bit more from the police:
In a statement on its Web site, the Capitol Police said it was investigating a traffic accident, but it gave no other details. A Capitol police spokesman was not available for further comment. But the police union president Lou Cannon said Kennedy “appeared to be intoxicated and the officials were called to the scene at which time a determination was made to take him home.” Cannon said the incident took place near the Capitol, after Kennedy “was observed making some type of maneuver with his vehicle.”
Roll Call has a subscriber-only story, headlined “Officers Claim Brass Interfered in Investigation of Rep. Kennedy Incident.” All that’s available free is the lede:
Police labor union officials asked acting Chief Christopher McGaffin this afternoon to allow a Capitol Police officer to complete his investigation into an early-morning car crash involving Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.).
DC’s CBS affiliate includes this additional information:
According to Rollcall.com, Baird — acting chairman of the Capitol Police Fraternal Order of Police —- said Kennedy’s Mustang had its lights off when it narrowly missed crashing into a police cruiser and smashed into a security barrier. According to Roll Call, Baird wrote in his letter that the driver got out and “was observed to be staggering.” He told officers he was a congressman late for a vote. Baird wrote that patrol officers at the scene were prohibited from performing field sobriety tests. Then two sergeants arrived, conferred with a watch commander and “ordered all of the patrol division units to leave the scene … that they were taking over.”
Baird wrote McGaffin that two sergeants who responded to the accident conferred with the watch commander and were ordered to leave the scene. He said that after the officers left, Capitol Police officials gave Kennedy a ride home.
Kennedy spent time at a drug rehabilitation clinic before he went to Providence College. He has been open about mental health issues, including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
NPR (radio, no link) noted this morning that Kennedy was involved in another accident recently.
The Senators and Representatives . . . shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same. . . .
If so, it’s not so clever. The courts have consistently interpreted that provision quite narrowly.
This clause is practically obsolete. It applies only to arrests in civil suits, which were still common in this country at the time the Constitution was adopted. 376 It does not apply to service of process in either civil 377 or criminal cases. 378 Nor does it apply to arrest in any criminal case. The phrase ”treason, felony or breach of the peace” is interpreted to withdraw all criminal offenses from the operation of the privilege. 379
[Footnote 376] Long v. Ansell, 293 U.S. 76 (1934).
[Footnote 377] Id., 83.
[Footnote 378] United States v. Cooper, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 341 (C.C. Pa. 1800).
[Footnote 379] Williamson v. United States, 207 U.S. 425, 446 (1908).
Now, it’s conceivable that Capitol Hill police don’t know this but it’s much more likely that they do, given their beat.
In many jurisdictions, being impaired on prescription medications is no different from being under the influence of alcohol. Nor should it be. The potential for tragedy is the same in both cases.
Still, enforcement is a bit sketchier:
Unlike DUI cases that involve alcohol, there is no “per se” or legal limit that is employed for persons accused of driving under the influence of prescription medication or illicit drugs. Instead, the key inquiry focuses on whether the driver’s faculties were impaired by the substance that was consumed. The detection and successful prosecution of drivers impaired by prescription medication or illegal drugs is therefore quite difficult. Similarly, although urinalysis toxicology screens can detect the presence of such substances in the driver’s bloodstream, these analyses are unable to demonstrate that the substance was actually causing impairment at the time of driving. In response to these problems, several jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would establish “zero tolerance” laws for those drivers arrested for DUI and found to have drugs or medication in their system. Additionally, breathalyzers have been developed for the purpose of administering roadside or laboratory tests that can detect the actual level of a controlled substance in an individual’s body.
And, if the police decide not to administer a test, establishing the level is obviously even more difficult. One would think holding a press conference and releasing a written confession that one was under the influence of drugs would carry some weight, however.
All that said, comparisons to Chappaquiddick, while always mildly amusing, would seem unwarranted at this stage. Unless there’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye, no one died here. Why Kennedy was allowed to leave the scene without some sort of sobriety screen and, indeed, arrest is something none of us yet know. My guess is that will change soon enough.
Update: The Boston Globe coverage has a slight but important addition:
But Lou Cannon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union that represents the Capitol Police, said last night that officers ”noted an odor of alcohol and that [Kennedy] appeared to be intoxicated.” Cannon was not on the scene, but received verbal reports from Capitol Police officers who had talked to the officers who were at the accident site. [Emphasis added]
Legally, that would not make much difference, especially given the lack of a blood alcohol check. Politically, it might indeed matter.
Cannon said that when supervisors arrived, it was determined that Kennedy would be driven home. He was not given a field sobriety test. Given the circumstances, Cannon said, anyone else ”would have probably left the scene in handcuffs.” [Emphasis added]
One would think, yes.
The union has written a letter to the chief of the Capitol Police ”to ensure that an investigation does continue,” Cannon said. ”We’re not saying that anything improper was done, we just want to make sure that the investigation goes forward.”
Given the actions of the officers on the scene, the investigation into Kennedy is seriously and irreparably compromised. A look at why the Capitol Police are treating Kennedys or Congressmen in general differently than ordinary citizens, though, would be fascinating.
Ed Morrissey observes,
Just a few weeks ago, we hailed the Capitol Police when it pursued assault charges against Cynthia McKinney. Now it appears that McKinney may have had a point when she presumed that DC police would give her special treatment due to her position. They certainly appear to have done so with Kennedy, at least above the patrol level. So far no one has taken responsibility for giving the order to skip the routine investigatory practice of checking for alcohol influence when a driver has a single-car accident in the middle of the night — especially when one of the officers insists that the Congressman appeared intoxicated.
Of course, cops are much more likely to look the other way at drunk driving, which many still put in the category of “boys will be boys,” than actually striking an officer. Showing disrespect to a patrolman is a more serious crime than risking the lives of one’s fellow citizens, after all.
Update 2: He’s completing the Kenndy two-step, checking himself in for treatment for addiction.