Kerry Kennedy pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a Westchester County town court to driving while drugged, blaming her erratic behavior and sideswiping of a truck Friday on a "complex partial seizure," possibly from an earlier right-brain injury.
After the brief hearing in the North Castle Town Hall on the misdemeanor charge, the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that she had no recollection of driving wildly on Interstate 684 at about 8 a.m., hitting a tractor trailer and exiting the highway at Route 22, where a North Castle police officer found her slumped over the steering wheel of her 2008 Lexus.
"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," Kennedy told reporters Tuesday outside the courthouse. "In my discussion with the police officer, I was confused and erratic."
Kennedy, 52, said she was headed to the gym when the incident occurred. Alarmed drivers alerted police, and she said she "told the officer that it was theoretically possible that I had mistakenly taken an Ambien rather than a thyroid pill earlier that morning."
Following the accident, Kennedy said she underwent a battery of neurological tests at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. "An MRI showed an area of hyperdensity, which appears to be the result of a head injury I sustained some time ago," she explained.
Doctors told Kennedy she had "symptoms consistent with a right side of the brain injury," she said. Kennedy said she will undergo treatment for the injury that court papers said she incurred during a car accident last year.
"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," said Kennedy, adding that doctors told her Friday's seizure was the first she ever had.
Wearing a bright blue dress, black heels and a crucifix, Kennedy asserted that blood and urine tests taken at Northern Westchester Hospital shortly after the incident will show that no alcohol or drugs were in her system. The mother of three daughters with Cuomo said she does not abuse drugs of any kind.
In court documents obtained by Newsday, Kennedy told police that she takes the thyroid medication Synthroid daily and has a prescription for Ambien, a sedative used to treat insomnia. In the statement to prosecutors, Kennedy said she had slept eight hours before the accident, drank a cappuccino and ate carrots before getting behind the wheel.
Kennedy arrived at the North Castle Town Hall about five minutes before Tuesday's hearing. Peering through black reading glasses at police paperwork, occasionally shaking her head as she did and taking notes on a pad, she was flanked by her sister Rory Kennedy and her sister-in-law Sheila Kennedy, beside whom was Kerry Kennedy's brother Christopher.
The daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy stood with her arms folded before North Castle Town Justice Elyse Lazansky, who referred her to a substance abuse program for evaluation. Lazansky said she wouldn't weigh in on the case until more evidence is presented.
"Obviously we need to wait for the blood results to come back before we can discuss a disposition," Lazansky said.
The judge told Kennedy that she had to be fingerprinted within two days by State Police and she set her next court date for Aug. 14.