On the night of 18 July, Kennedy left a party with an attractive young intern en route to a private secluded beach on the far side of Dike Bridge. Kennedy lost control on the single-lane bridge and his vehicle overturned in the shallow tidal water. (Note: I drove across this bridge in a large 4x4 truck a few years after this incident, and it was not difficult to keep it out of the water -- but then, I was not intoxicated.)
Kennedy freed himself from the vehicle leaving his passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to suffocate in an air pocket inside the overturned car. After resting at the water's edge, he walked back to the party house, and one of his political hacks took him back to his hotel.
Nine hours later, after sobering up and conferring with political advisors and lawyers, Kennedy called authorities to report the incident. Kopechne's body had already been discovered.
With the help of Father Joe's connections, Kennedy was charged only with leaving the scene of an accident. In his testimony, he claimed, "I almost tossed and turned... I had not given up hope all night long that, by some miracle, Mary Jo would have escaped from the car." He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve two months in jail -- sentence suspended.
With Joan, his pregnant wife of 10 years, and their three children by his side, he claimed that charges of "immoral conduct and drunk driving" were false and he was promptly re-elected to his second full Senate term with a landslide 62 percent of the vote. However, his responsibility for the death of Kopechne would all but disqualify him from ever holding national office. Indeed, the moral composure of the nation differs significantly from that of his Massachusetts supporters and defenders.
Kennedy's political advocacy swung evermore to the left in the years that followed, and his personal conduct led the way.