From the July 22, 1969 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Chief Dominick J. Arena of the Edgartown police yesterday filed application for a complaint against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for leaving the scene of an accident on Chappaquiddick, in which Miss Mary Jo Kopechne of Washington, D.C., was drowned.

The accident occurred about midnight on Friday, and since then the story has unfolded through a series of bizarre revelations and has grown, as far as the Vineyard is concerned, into something more than the story of a tragic incident. The principal figure still remains Senator Kennedy, but the most visible figures in the story are the men and women who have made up the not-so-small army of newsmen, reporters and TV camera men who almost magically began to appear as soon as word of the accident and the involvement of the senator got out.

The complaint being brought against Senator Kennedy stems from the fact that the accident was not reported immediately. The first report the police had came at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, when the submerged car was discovered by two young men on their way back from an early morning fishing session on East Beach.

Chief Arena went to the scene, found the car upside down in the water, and made several dives himself to try to determine whether there was anyone inside. Then he called for the Edgartown fire department scuba diving team, composed of John N. Farrar, Laurence Mercier and Jared Grant. Mr. Farrar dove down and found Miss Kopechne’s body, and with the aid of the chief, got her out of the car and to the surface. The medical examiner, Dr. Donald R. Mills, came to the scene, and his examination revealed that she had died by drowning.

Miss Kopechne, who was 28 years old, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kopechne of Berkeley Heights, N. J. She was a former campaign worker for the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and had been active in politics since 1963.

The weekend ended tragically, and many persons on the Island, when they heard the news, expressed their dismay over yet another fateful incident in a series afflicting the Kennedy family. As the weekend progressed, the dismay was intensified by the hungering newsmen, who, in the process of searching out every scrap of fact, turned a usually routine procedure, Chief Arena’s walk across Main street yesterday to register the complaint, into a crowd scene worthy of Cecil B. DeMille.


Edgartown had never witnessed such a scene before except in a motion picture, and the throng of photographers, reporters and bystanders in front of the courthouse Monday morning belonged in the fictional world of the movie or of television. It seemed likely to be there, too, at least in television, for many of the cameramen carried elaborate electrical equipment that surely represented TV.

It was known on Sunday that Senator Kennedy could not possibly make a courtroom appearance at Edgartown earlier than Wednesday.

(A hearing was later set for July 28.)

“That’s right,” said a news photographer Monday, “but he was lost in the tide of other photographers and newsmen swarming toward Police Chief Jim Arena.

A woman in earnest conversation with an informed bystander in the milling crowd at the foot of the courthouse steps had her questions answered one by one until at last she exclaimed, “Then it’s about nothing at all!”

It wasn’t strictly about nothing. It was about the police chief obtaining a complaint in the office of the clerk of district court in the courthouse. It was about the chief, followed by the crowd, flash bulbs flashing, reels grinding, arms raised on high with cameras, bystanders running and ducking to gain an advantage, crossing the street to his office and back again to the courthouse.

It was about the chief emerging from the courthouse, facing the pressing tiers of newsmen and photographers, microphones held to catch his voice, holding what quickly turned into a press conference on the steps. The questions and the microphones were insistent, and the chief answered to the right, to the left, and straight ahead.

All the time the summer procession of cars, more of them than usual, made its way through Main street, men, women, and children spectators warned out of danger by Bob Bruguiere of the Edgartown police. At last the surge relaxed, the chief made his way down the courthouse steps by degrees, the cameramen scattered to their hotels, improvised darkrooms, or to the airport.

Many of them had rooms at the Harbor View, although the story that NBC had taken a whole floor there was exaggerated. A host of them had alighted from planes Monday morning, laden with equipment of fabulous value, asking questions of anyone in sight, heading for the county seat one by one and in groups. They had gathered at the courthouse early, a large crowd by themselves, attracting a larger crowd until the hour between 9 and 10 was a continuing flood tide converging on the courthouse steps. At the last, when the ebb had set in, Bob Bruguiere called out, “To the beach, everyone!”

Compiled by Hilary Wall