WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kerry Kennedy said she did not knowingly take a sleeping pill and did not realize she was impaired when she got behind the wheel.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, Kennedy took the stand Wednesday at her drugged-driving trial in White Plains. She testified that she thought she had taken her thyroid medication, but must have taken a sleeping pill by mistake.
She testified for almost three hours, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
The prosecution argues that even if she took the sleeping pill accidentally, Kennedy violated the law by failing to pull over when it took effect.
“On July 13, 2012, did you knowingly take zolpidem that morning?” defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt asked Kennedy in court on Wednesday.
“No, I did not,” she replied.
“Did you take zolpidem by accident?” he asked.
“That is what I now believe,” Kennedy said.
Lefcourt then asked if she at any time that morning realized she was under the influence of the sleeping drug. Kennedy answered, “No, I didn’t.”
“If I realized I was impaired I would have pulled over,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy explained that the sleeping pill taken by mistake that July morning in 2012 caused a stretch of Westchester County highway to vanish into an unexpected chemical haze. She told jurors her final thoughts behind the wheel before the curtain fell.
“I remember thinking how beautiful the light was filtering through the trees at that hour,” she said. “I remember driving up the exit ramp just to approach 684 (the interstate.) After that, I have no memory.
It was after five miles of erratic driving in her Lexus, and a collision with a truck, that Kennedy said she woke up to the sound of someone rapping on her window.
“As I recall, he said, ‘Are you all right?’” she said. “And I was confused by that because I felt fine, but I couldn’t get my car to go forward.
“He said, ‘Have you been in an accident?’” Kennedy continued. “And I said no, because as far as I was concerned, I hadn’t. I walked around in front of the car and saw that the tire was blown out, and the marks on the side of the car, and I was shocked.”
Kennedy said she came to believe she had taken zolpidem – the generic form of Ambien — by mistake after blood tests came back days later. The CVS bottle looks identical to her daily Snythroid thyroid medication, and both bottles were sitting on a kitchen counter waiting to be packed for a trip, she said.
Lefcourt showed the jury two photographs — one of the two similar-looking pill bottles and one of the two types of pill. Both pills were light-colored and oblong, but one was slightly longer than the other.
Prosecutor Doreen Lloyd said during cross-examination that 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.
Kennedy said she has taken the thyroid medication every day since 1991. She said she takes the sleeping pills when she travels.
Lloyd pointed out to Kennedy that it “would have taken you a second to read that label.”
“I really wish I had,” Kennedy replied. “We wouldn’t be here today.”
Prosecutors also asked how as a decades-long user of sleeping pills, she didn’t feel the medicine stop working in time to pull over.
On Tuesday, the prosecution’s toxicology expert said she doesn’t know whether Kennedy would have realized she was driving erratically after taking the sleeping pill.
“I don’t know if she was aware,”said Elizabeth Spratt, director of toxicology at the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research. However, she would not go so far as to agree that Kennedy definitely felt no effects.
Spratt also acknowledged the possibility of “sleep driving,” which she defined as, “You’re driving without being aware that you’re driving.”
She said the drug’s effects include sleepiness, poor motor coordination and headaches. It can also cause amnesia, meaning that many people don’t remember much after they’ve taken Ambien, she said.
That seemed to undercut the prosecution’s claim that Kennedy should have pulled over as she felt the drug’s effects.
Earlier Tuesday, a state trooper testified that Kennedy passed several sobriety tests at a police station a few hours after she failed most tests with another officer at the accident scene.
A panel of six jurors and two alternates have listened to three days of testimony now. They could get the case as early as Thursday.
Kennedy, 54, is the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the niece of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Lefcourt asked her about her background and her work as president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Justice Robert Neary cut them off, saying, “I’m not sure this is the right forum to go into exhaustive detail.”
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