Kerry Kennedy to contest charges in court Tuesday

Kerry Kennedy addresses the media shortly before the

Kerry Kennedy addresses the media shortly before the funeral of her sister-in-law, Mary Kennedy. (May 19, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

Kerry Kennedy will fight charges that she drove last week while under the influence of drugs, starting with her court appearance Tuesday in Westchester County, her lawyer said Monday.

"At this point, we will appear in court tomorrow, and certainly she is not guilty," said attorney Robert Gottlieb.

Kennedy, the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the daughter of former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, will plead not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of driving while ability impaired by drugs in North Castle Town Court on Tuesday evening, Gottlieb said. She faces up to a year behind bars if convicted.

State Police arrested the 52-year-old mother of three daughters after she was found slumped over the steering wheel of her 2008 Lexus off Interstate 684's exit 3 on Route 22 in North Castle on Friday morning.

A law enforcement source said Kennedy, who lives in Bedford, told police she had taken Ambien, a prescription drug typically used to combat insomnia. The source said Kennedy's car sideswiped a tractor-trailer while driving south on I-684 shortly after 8 a.m., prompting other drivers to alert police.

On Monday, a source in the Kennedy camp told Newsday that Kennedy is fuzzy as to whether she accidentally took Ambien instead of medicine to treat a thyroid condition. The source said Kennedy did not knowingly abuse any medicine.

Kennedy is planning to visit a physician to determine whether a seizure or some other medical condition might have triggered the incident, the source added.

According to drug manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis' website, Ambien's potential side effects include "sleep driving" -- driving without knowing it.

An investigator with Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore's office was spotted Monday morning at the North Castle Police Department collecting paperwork on the incident. DiFiore's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

North Castle police referred inquiries to the State Police.

State Police are awaiting the results of blood tests taken at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco after Kennedy's arrest. Those results could take up to a week to be completed.

Maj. Michael Kopy, the commander of State Police Troop K, did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

On Friday, a Kennedy spokesman denied that she was using drugs at the time of the incident.

"Kerry Kennedy voluntarily took Breathalyzer, blood and urine tests -- all of which showed no drugs or alcohol whatsoever in her system," said Ken Sunshine in a statement issued Friday. "The charges were filed before the test results were available."

Kennedy's arrest marks another chapter in what has been a difficult season for the Kennedy clan.

In May, Mary Richardson Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy's sister-in-law and friend of 37 years, hanged herself in the barn of her Bedford home. Last week, autopsy results revealed that Mary Richardson Kennedy, who had struggled with depression and substance abuse, had anti-depressants in her system at the time of her death.

Mary Richardson Kennedy, who was estranged from her husband, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at the time of her death, was arrested twice on charges of driving while intoxicated. She and Kerry met in boarding school.

In January, Kerry Kennedy's brother Douglas was charged with physical harassment and child endangerment after two nurses claimed he injured them when they tried to stop him from taking his newborn son from Northern Westchester Hospital. Douglas Kennedy, 44, said he was protecting his son "from a complete stranger who tried to grab him from my arms."

Kerry Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo wed in 1990 in Washington, joining two of America's first families of politics in a union dubbed "Cuomolot. The couple split in 2003 in a messy public divorce that played out in the tabloids with allegations of a Kerry Kennedy affair.

Kerry Kennedy, a lawyer, is president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, whose work includes advocating on behalf of immigrant farm workers. She makes regular appearances on behalf of the center.

The driver of the tractor-trailer whose rig was hit by Kerry Kennedy's car told the New York Post she appeared "half asleep or very, very intoxicated."

The driver, Rocco Scuitello, 47, said Kennedy ignored a blast from his horn before hitting the truck.

"She's very lucky she didn't kill somebody," he said.

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