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Kennedy says she can’t remember wild N.Y. drive

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Kerry Kennedy leaves Westchester County courthouse Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in White Plains, N.Y. Kennedy testified at her drugged-driving trial Wednesday that she has no memory of swerving and hitting a tractor-trailer on a suburban New York highway and did not realize she was impaired when she got behind the wheel. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. >> The defense at Kerry Kennedy’s drugged-driving trial introduced a medical journal article on Thursday in support of her testimony that she didn’t realize she had accidentally taken a sleeping pill before getting behind the wheel.

The August 2013 New England Journal of Medicine article said data showed that people taking the sleeping pill zolpidem “frequently do not recognize their impaired state.”

Kennedy testified Wednesday that she didn’t remember anything that happened as she drove on a New York interstate one summer day in 2012 — swerving out of her lane, hitting a tractor-trailer and blowing a tire.

And she says she never sensed that the drug was having an effect.

“If I realized I was impaired I would have pulled over,” Kennedy said Wednesday at her trial in White Plains.

The conclusion of the article on zolpidem was read from the witness stand Thursday by Dr. David Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist who said he was involved in the testing of zolpidem as the manufacturer sought FDA approval in the 1990s.

It would be even more difficult for someone who didn’t know they had taken the drug “to understand what was going on,” he said.

On cross examination, Benjamin said “a reasonable person” would check a prescription bottle before taking the drug. But when prosecutor Doreen Lloyd asked him to say it was Kennedy’s fault, the defense objected and the judge sustained the objection.

Benjamin was the last witness to be called. Closing arguments were set for Thursday afternoon.

Kennedy, the ex-wife of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, daughter of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and niece of President John F. Kennedy, claims she took the pill thinking it was her thyroid medication.

The prosecution has argued that even if she took the sleeping pill accidentally, Kennedy violated the law by failing to pull over as she felt it taking effect.Kennedy, ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, claims she took the pill thinking it was her thyroid medication.

The prosecution has argued that even if she took the sleeping pill accidentally, Kennedy violated the law by failing to pull over as she felt it taking effect.

On cross-examination, a skeptical prosecutor Doreen Lloyd asked Kennedy if the pill really “overtook you without warning.”

“Yes,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, 54, told defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt that she takes the thyroid pill every day and the sleeping pill only when traveling, but the medications, in similar bottles and similarly shaped, were together on the kitchen counter in preparation for an upcoming trip.

Lloyd said Kennedy “didn’t take the time or the care” to check the label on the medication and asked if she would agree that was careless.

“I would,” Kennedy said.

She said she remembers getting in the car and driving the local road toward Interstate 684, but her memory fades out just as she was merging onto the highway.

The next thing she recalls is a man tapping on her window as she sat slumped over the steering wheel after taking an exit ramp.

“He said, ‘Have you been in an accident?'” Kennedy said. “And I said, ‘No,’ because as far as I was concerned I hadn’t been in an accident.”

She said she became confused and frightened when she saw that the side of her Lexus was badly scraped and one tire was gone.

She failed several sobriety tests at the scene and was arrested.

Kennedy testified at length about her accomplishments in human rights work and the books she’s written on human rights and religion. At one point Justice Robert Neary told Lefcourt, “I’m not sure this is the right forum to go into exhaustive detail.”

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