Kerry Kennedy pleaded not guilty today to driving under the influence of drugs, and said that a seizure caused the erratic driving that led to a collision with a tractor-trailer last week.
Kennedy, a human rights activist and the daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was seen driving erratically in Westchester, N.Y., Friday before she collided with the truck. She allegedly continued driving and was later found slumped over the wheel of her car, reportedly unable to remember what had happened.
After her arraignment today at court in North Castle, N.Y., she apologized "to the driver I apparently hit, and to all those I endangered driving my car last Friday morning."
Kennedy, 52, the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said she remembers getting up, having coffee and getting into her car to head to the gym the morning of the crash, but then her memory goes blank.
"I remember getting on the highway and then I have no memory until I was stopped at a traffic light and a police officer was at my car door," she said.
When police asked her if she had taken any drugs, she said she answered, "It was theoretically possible that I had mistakenly taken an Ambien rather than a thyroid pill earlier that morning."
Drug testing, however, found no alcohol, or prescruption or recreational drugs in her system, and examination by her own doctors indicated she had a seizure, Kennedy said.
"I underwent a full battery of neurological testing at Mt. Sinai Medical Center," she said. "An MRI showed an area of hyperdensity, which appears to be the result of a head injury I sustained some time ago.
"A comprehensive battery of neurological function tests showed systems consistent with a right side of the brain injury," she said. "This, coupled with an abnormal EEG, the lack of memory, the quick recovery, and a series of other factors led my doctors to believe that this accident was caused not by a sleeping aid but by a complex partial seizure."
Because of Kennedy's comment to the officer about Ambien, and the fact that she has no history of drug or alcohol abuse, early speculation on what could have caused her erratic driving focused on the sleeping aid.
Her cousin and former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy made similar headlines in 2006, when he was involved in an accident in Washington, D.C. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated, and he had taken a sedative before getting behind the wheel.
"[The 2006 accident] was a wake-up call for me in many respects. These are medications that are very powerful, and if it was a medication like Ambien, then it's something that we all need to be aware of," he told ABC News.
He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
Patrick Kennedy said that unlike his own struggle with depression and mental illness, his cousin Kerry has no history of problems with prescription drugs.
"We know in my family that this is out of character for Kerry, and we're worried about this, as anybody would be when a loved one is in a car accident," he said. "Kerry is certainly is somebody who, I think, is a resilient person. I know she'll be moving forward."
Rocco Scuitello, the driver of the truck that Kennedy hit, told the New York Post today, "My first impression was that she was really, really drunk, half asleep or very, very intoxicated. She's very lucky she didn't kill somebody."
"When she hit me, my left tire tore up her passenger-side door, and the lug nuts on my truck tore up her tire, just shredded through it and peeled the tire right off," Scuitello said.
"She woke up a little bit, not a lot, not the way you'd wake up if you'd just hit a 6,000-pound truck. The only thing she wanted to do then was get away, because she floored it and took off."
Patrick Kennedy said he was with his cousin at a wedding last week and that the accusations are completely out of character.