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, 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.”

AP adds,

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 story is, not surprisingly given the Kennedy family history, the focus of a blogswarm. Matt Drudge apparently started it by publicizing the Roll Call piece and Michelle Malkin got aboard quickly.

Malkin links to Fausta, who thinks Kennedy’s claim he was on his way to vote was a clever invocation of Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution:

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.

Jeralyn Merritt would not be surprised if Kennedy is telling the truth about Ambien, which she notes has been linked to numerous vehicular accidents.

Update 2: He’s completing the Kenndy two-step, checking himself in for treatment for addiction.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, Policing, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ICallMasICM says:

    Since he just head on’ed someone 3 weeks ago and now has had another accident where he was identified as drinking or even if he was only under the influence of prescription drugs maybe the police should have done a sobriety test? Maybe it would be a good thing to take his license before he kills himself or God forbid someone else? He’s looking out for the little people, or maybe not so much.

  2. Bithead says:

    Leftist politicians
    Have always been a real close family
    Those I call my kinfolk
    Have blazed a meandering trail for me
    Stop and think it over
    Put yourself in my unique position
    If I get stoned and drive all night long
    It’s a Family Tradition

    (Apologies to Hank Jr…)

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I feel sorry for the guy. I mean, he didn’t have a chance: he was genetically pre-programmed for substance abuse problems and brought up in a social milieu in which it was normal.

  4. tammy says:

    …an anti-nausea medication…treatment for a gastrointestinal disorder

    I have friend who is seriously ill and whose doctors have not finalized their diagnosis. She does have Celiac Disease and they now suspect she may also have Addisons Disease. They just don’t know.

    There is a strong hereditary link for both of these diseases. Knowing that JFK battled Addisons Disease, I certainly hope Patrick Kennedy is receiving the best of care.

  5. McGehee says:

    I certainly hope Patrick Kennedy is receiving the best of care.

    Indeed. Although, letting him drive while impaired by prescription drugs, doesn’t strike me as meeting this requirement…

  6. So, how exactly does blaming it on Ambien excuse his accident or the behavior that led to it? The complete lack of accountability when it comes to the Kennedys and their apologists is staggering. Of course, the same can be said for most politicians, but the well of goodwill ran dry on the Kennedy compound a long, long time ago.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Well now here is something the few remaining Bush supportes can sink their teeth into to divert themselves from the cruel fact that Bush’s approval ratings are now lower then mold.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Another update: he’s goin’ in for re-hab.

  9. tom manning says:

    Anyone want to make a bet he made a call to his attorney before making a statement to the media.
    Papa Teddy knows that trick. All you folks in new england that keep voting for the Kennedy’s deserve what you get. Also have viewed several papers and no one yet has named the higher up who told the line officers not to give him the test and drive him home instead of putting the cuffs on him. One waitress has already stated Patrick was at a popular bar “hawks & dove” drinking that night. Patrick said he had not been drinking. If you still do not believe this is a coverup try this trick yourself and another bet you will have a free night in the poker.

  10. Yes anjin-san, that must be it. If only elected Democrats could avoid being corrupt, stupid, publicly intoxicated, self-righteous demagogues then those rascally Republicans would have to find some other trick to distract the public from their evil attempts to destroy the world!

  11. anjin-san says:

    Sure Charles, only Democrats get drunk. Guess you missed the John Sweeny post a few days ago on this blog. As for corruption, you must be kidding.

  12. Bithead says:

    Leaving aside , for just a moment, the question of whether not Kennedy is actually telling the truth here, let’s address the drug rehab thing:

    Funny, how the issue of drug addiction never entered the press reports, before Kennedy uttered the phrase… despite it apparently having been a matter of public record. To find out now, after a day and a half worth of these reports that he was treated over the congressional recess at Christmas for addiction to a pain medication, is interesting, and perhaps revealing by what it doesn’t say.

    A comparison is in order:

    Rush Limbaugh went through an ordeal recently with regards to an addiction to pain medication. I doubt there are many readers of this blog who will not have remembered it. Wasn’;t it about a week ago that the deal was finally closed? There were many on the left who chided him before being less than kind to addicts of so called “recreational drugs”. I even made reference to that point in this space.

    I pointed out at the time, that there is a massive difference between someone becoming addicted to “recreational drugs” and someone becoming addicted to pain medication which was under the care of a doctor. I still hold that be the case.

    If, in fact, Kennedy is telling the truth here, (and leaving aside the question of his smelling like he’d been drinking, and reports from two different bartenders in two different bars that he had been a patron of each of them that evening…) if his addiction to the pain medication in question was in fact the cause of the apparent ‘loss of control’, shall we say, then the man deserves at least a modicum of support. It is fair to say that under such conditions he would not have arrived at that juncture by choice, as would someone addicted to ‘recreational drugs’.

    However, let’s ask now, as we saw asked by the left regards Mr. Limbaugh, just which medication he did become addicted to, and where it was he got his supply from.

    I seem to recall Mr. Limbaugh being chased for months and years over an alleged incident of doctor shopping. It was alleged that Mr. Limbaugh are used this method to obtain the drug that he was addicted to. Did Mr. Kennedy?

    Consider this carefully… Any doctor who would have Mr. Kennedy in his care, would certainly have been aware of his being in a rehab for his addiction, wouldn’t you say? Unless, perchance, he went to another doctor, who didn’t know is case very well, and yet was willing to ride out a prescription .

    Why have no such questions come up from the press as regards Mr. Kennedy? Why are the legal authorities in the area is represented by Mr. Kennedy not looking into this? One possible reason, of course, is that they, too, are Democrats.

    Further, why is it that we’re not hearing about which medication that Mr. Kennedy became addicted to? Is it possible that Mr. Kennedy became addicted to the very same medication that Mr. Limbaugh did? If so we would seem to have been even more glaring double standard then we started with.

    And again, all this assumes that Mr. Kennedy is telling the truth, that his addiction to painkillers medications and not alcohol was the cause of the last couple of accidents that he’s on record as having caused. This would seem to be a rather large and unwarranted assumption.

    In either case, whether Mr. Kennedy is telling the truth or not, Mr. Kennedy should resign, or be forcibly removed from his office, being unfit for the position. Several laws have been broken and need to be enforced regardless of how the question of his honesty about the cause of all of this comes out.

    If the people that were grave dancing as regards Mr. Limbaugh are being honest and truthful they will join me in calling for Mr. Kennedy’s ouster, prosecution, and jailing. Just like they did Rush.

    Funny, isn’t it, how this ‘fairness’ thing works?