Friday , May 05, 2006
WASHINGTON —Rep. Patrick Kennedy is on his way to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to seek continued help for his addiction to prescription drugs after he crashed his car into a concrete barrier on Capitol Hill.
No one was injured in the accident, but the Rhode Island Democrat's traffic incident has gained him three citations — none of which were alcohol- or drug-related — after he nearly struck a police cruiser.
A police union official has raised questions over whether the congressman received special treatment because of his elected position, and FOX News since has learned that the police watch commander on duty at the time has been reassigned.
Reports also are circulating that Kennedy was seen at a Washington bar before the crash. Kennedy has denied alcohol was involved.
At a press conference Friday, Kennedy — the son of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. — said he does not remember any part of the early Thursday morning accident, even though he told reporters earlier he had not asked for special treatment when police found him.
"I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions. That's not how I want to live my life, and it's not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island," Kennedy told reporters Friday afternoon.
"The reoccurrence of an addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in every day life such as taking the common treatment for the stomach flu. That's not an excuse for what happened Wednesday evening, but it is a reality of fighting a chronic condition for which I'm taking full responsibility."
He added: "I am deeply concerned about my reaction to the medication. ... I know that I need help."
Kennedy said he has been open about his past drug problems and checked himself into the Mayo Clinic over Christmas and again during the most recent recess.
"I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans," Kennedy said. He left the congressional press room without addressing reporters' questions.
Kennedy earlier denied being under the influence of alcohol during the car crash but said he was taking prescriptions for nausea and sleeplessness, including the sleep-aid drug, Ambien. He apparently was not given the routine field sobriety tests by police at the scene but instead was escorted home.
"I never asked for any preferential treatment," Kennedy told reporters early Friday. Asked if he received any, he said: "That's up for the police to decide, and I'm going to cooperate fully with them."
According to a police report obtained by FOX News, an officer had to swerve out of the way to avoid being hit at 2:47 a.m. Thursday when a speeding green Ford Mustang with its lights off apparently lost control and hit a curb. The officer began to follow the car, which kept driving until it struck a construction barrier. The driver turned out to be Kennedy.
The officer described the congressman's eyes as red and watery, his speech was slightly slurred, and upon exiting the vehicle, his balance was unsure.
Kennedy then said he was "headed to the Capitol to make a vote," the officer wrote. The last vote had been held six hours earlier.
Kennedy was cited with failure to keep in the proper lane, driving at an unreasonable speed, and failing to give full time and attention to operation of a vehicle, according to the report.
Louis P. Cannon, president of the Washington chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, who was not at the traffic stop, said the officers who responded to the accident were instructed by an official "above the rank of patrolman" to take Kennedy home and no sobriety tests were conducted at the scene. Cannon also said he heard from officers that Kennedy had smelled of alcohol, adding that based on the other visual signs the congressman showed, officers could have followed up with the sobriety tests.
The police report does not address those claims.
"Well, obviously, special consideration was given to him," Cannon told FOX News on Friday. "I mean, it may be deemed by some people to be preferential. I don't think, probably, you or I would have got the same the same type of treatment. ... He was certainly given some special consideration because of his position."
Cannon acknowledged, however, that there are special rules that allow for special treatment of congressional representatives who are on their way to a vote.
A letter written by a Capitol Police officer to Acting Chief Christopher McGaffin said Kennedy appeared to be staggering when he left the vehicle. The letter was first reported by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
A statement released Thursday by the Capitol Police says that in addition to the accident investigation, the department was "reviewing steps taken during the initial accident investigation to ensure compliance with existing policies and procedures."
Kennedy said in a statement Thursday that the attending physician for Congress on Tuesday had prescribed Phenergan to treat Kennedy for gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Kennedy said he later found out it could cause drowsiness.
Kennedy said that after working Wednesday evening, he went home and took prescribed amounts of Phenergan and Ambien, which he said the congressional doctor also had prescribed, and which he takes occasionally.
"Some time around 2:45 a.m., I drove the few blocks to the Capitol Complex believing I needed to vote. Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication," Kennedy said in the statement. He said he had the accident, and, "at no time before the incident did I consume any alcohol."
The Boston Herald reported Friday that Kennedy had been seen at a Capitol Hill restaurant and bar, Hawk and Dove, in the hours before the collision.
"He was drinking a little bit," a hostess told the newspaper. The Herald also said a bartender from a nearby establishment also saw the congressman at Hawk and Dove.
A woman who answered the phone at the restaurant Friday morning said she could not confirm the reports that the congressman had been seen at the bar, but said there have been numerous press inquiries about the incident.
"We're trying to open a restaurant here," she told FOXNews.com.
A criminal defense lawyer told FOX News that not drinking alcohol doesn't necessarily mean Kennedy won't get charged.
"The sleep aid itself could give him criminal liability for the DUI," said Washington attorney David Oblon. "He filled in the gap for the government and that's something we have to work around for the defense."
Kennedy spent time at a drug rehabilitation clinic years ago before he went to Providence College. He often has discussed his own mental health issues publicly, including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Sen. Ted Kennedy canceled two public events Friday, one at a Manhattan elementary school, and another at a book signing later in the day. He released a statement Friday afternoon.
"I love Patrick very much and am very proud of him. All of us in the family admire his courage in speaking publicly about very personal issues and fully support his decision to seek treatment. He has taken full responsibility for events that occurred Wednesday evening, and he will continue to cooperate fully in any investigation," the elder Kennedy said.
Sen. Kennedy also said he hopes his son's supporters in Rhode Island "join me in feeling pride and respect for a courageous man who has admitted to a problem and taken bold action to correct it."
FOX News' Jim Mills, Molly Henneberg, Greg Simmons and Melissa Drosjack and The Associated Press contributed to this report.