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Rep. Kennedy Cites Pill Use in Car Crash

The Rhode Island Democrat says that he was not drinking before his car hit a barricade in D.C., but that he had taken two medications.

May 05, 2006|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) denied through his office Thursday that he had been drinking before he crashed a car into a Capitol Hill security barricade at 2:45 a.m.

"I consumed no alcohol prior to the incident," he said in a statement. "I will fully cooperate with the Capitol Police in whatever investigation they choose to undertake."

Kennedy confirmed that he was in an accident at First and C streets southeast near the House office buildings. His office said the congressman, the youngest of three children of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his former wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy, was still in Washington.

In a second, longer statement issued late Thursday, Kennedy, 38, said he had seen Congress' attending physician two days before and had been prescribed Phenergan to treat gastroenteritis. The drug, which is used to control nausea, may cause "considerable drowsiness," according to Physicians' Desk Reference.

After a series of votes Wednesday evening, Kennedy said, he took prescribed doses of Phenergan and Ambien, a drug he said the Capitol physician had given him some time ago for occasional sleeplessness.

"Apparently I was disoriented from the medication," he said, repeating his earlier statement that "at no time before the incident did I use any alcohol."

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, was the first Thursday to report the incident, quoting a letter from a police union official urging an investigation into whether the congressman had received preferential treatment. According to the letter, the car, operating without lights, narrowly missed a police cruiser and smashed into the barricade.

"The driver exited the vehicle and he was observed to be staggering," wrote Greg Baird, acting chairman of the U.S. Capitol Police's Fraternal Order of Police.

Officers approached the driver, who "declared to them he was a congressman and was late to a vote," Baird wrote. "The House had adjourned nearly three hours before this incident."

Baird wrote that the officers were not permitted to perform basic field sobriety tests and that the watch commander on duty "ordered all of the patrol division units to leave the scene."

Officers then drove Kennedy home, the congressman said in his second statement. "At no time did I ask for any special consideration," he added. "I simply complied with what the officers asked me to do."

Thursday's incident comes only weeks after Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney (D-Ga.) outraged Capitol police by poking an officer in the chest after he asked the congresswoman, who was not wearing her identification pin, to stop and go through the metal detectors. She later apologized on the House floor.

It is not clear whether Kennedy will claim congressional immunity, or whether such a claim would be viable. An old constitutional provision says that members of Congress have immunity from arrest going to and from sessions, said Stanley Brand, who was general counsel to the House from 1976 to 1983.

But the Supreme Court has interpreted the immunity as applying to congressional duties. In this case, Brand said, "you would have to weigh the facts and circumstances."

Kennedy's past includes several troubling episodes, starting with his treatment in 1986 for cocaine use. More recently, a charter company accused him of causing $28,000 in damage to a rented yacht in 2000. That same year, he acknowledged that he was "on a lot of different medications for, among other things, depression," and was accused of shoving an airport security guard at Los Angeles International Airport when she tried to make him check his bag.

He was in a traffic incident last month in his home district, according to Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, who reported that the mishap occurred as Kennedy was hurrying into the parking lot of a pharmacy in Portsmouth, R.I.

Last year, Kennedy and his siblings, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Kara Kennedy Allen, took legal custody of their mother, who has battled alcoholism.

Their father was involved in an infamous traffic accident in 1969, when he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., adjacent to Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy swam to safety; a female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died.

The senator, who was 37 at the time, said he did not report the accident for eight hours because he was in shock.

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