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Kerry Kennedy tested positive for Ambien on day of crash

NEWS12 WESTCHESTER: Kerry Kennedy had the powerful sleeping aid Ambien in her system when she crashed her car earlier this month. (July 24, 2012)

Kerry Kennedy had the powerful sleeping aid Ambien in her system the day she was found slumped over the steering wheel of her SUV on a Westchester County road, results of blood tests showed.

Kennedy, 52, pleaded not guilty last week to the misdemeanor of driving while drugged. She had mentioned Ambien in a statement to police the morning she was arrested, but initially blamed her erratic behavior and sideswiping of a truck on July 13 on a "complex partial seizure."

In the hours after her arrest, her spokesman, Ken Sunshine, said blood and urine tests analyzed privately "showed no drugs or alcohol whatsoever in her system."

However, the results of a blood test that she took at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco about five hours after the 8 a.m. incident - at the request of police - showed she tested positive for Zolpidem, the generic name for Ambien. The results of that blood test - and of a urine test - showed no alcohol in her system. The results were filed in North Castle Town Court on Wednesday afternoon, confirming statements officials had made to Newsday earlier in the day.

Mary Jane Edattel, a toxicologist with the Westchester County Department of Laboratories and Research, conducted the tests after Kennedy was arrested for driving erratically on Interstate 684, according to the report.

Kennedy issued a statement late Wednesday acknowledging the results of the blood test, saying that she had told the officer who found her on July 13 that she might have mistakenly taken Ambien instead of her thyroid medicine.

"The results we received today from the Westchester County lab showed trace amounts of a sleep aid in my system, so it now appears that my first instinct was correct," said the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "I am deeply sorry to all those I endangered that day, and am enormously grateful for the support I have received over the past two weeks."

After a July 17 court hearing in North Castle, Kennedy told reporters that she had no recollection of driving wildly on her way to the gym, hitting a tractor-trailer and exiting I-684 at Route 22, where a police officer found her in 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," the Bedford mother of three said outside the courthouse. "In my discussion with the police officer, I was confused and erratic."

That's when Kennedy said she told the officer about the possibility that she had mistakenly Ambien, a sedative used to treat insomnia and one for which she had a prescription, instead of the thyroid medicine Synthroid that she takes daily, records show.

In a statement to State Police, Kennedy said she had slept eight hours, had a cappuccino and eaten some carrots before getting behind the wheel that day.

Kennedy's blood test showed 14 nanograms of Ambien per milliliter of blood, which is fairly low, said Laura Liddicoat, a forensic toxicologist from Wisconsin who has authored studies on the effects of Ambien on drivers. The active drug in Ambien is usually eliminated from a person's system within five to eight hours after the drug is taken, Litticoat said.

"Any amount of Ambien can affect the brain," Liddicoat said. "Exactly the degree of affect would have to be determined by observation."


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