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Chappaquiddick: A tragedy that changed the course of American history

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Chappaquiddick, a new film by John Curran, recounts events surrounding the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a young woman who died in Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s car after it crashed on a small island off Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1969. Those facts are among the few certainties in a decades-long mystery. With Kennedy a favorite at the time for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972, the shadow cast by Chappaquiddick may well have changed the course of American political history.

Here’s a look back at that tragic day and its aftermath.

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Mary Jo Kopechne, shown in this undated photo, was killed after Sen. Edward Kennedy drove a car off a bridge on Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island on July 18, 1969. (Photo: AP)

Spectators look on as police work near the car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts which plunged off a bridge in an island pond on July 19, 1969, Chappaquiddick Island near Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Senator Kennedy escaped from the overturned car but was unable to rescue his companion, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne, 29, of Washington, D.C., who was killed in the crash. Miss Kopechne had worked as a secretary for the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

A car follows the curve of Chappaquiddick Road to the left on Chappaquiddick Island near Edgartown, Mass., on Aug. 9, 1969. Cemetery Road is straight ahead. On the night of his car accident with Mary Jo Kopechne, Ted Kennedy turned right onto Dike Road and drove off the bridge farther down. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Kennedy’s car with smashed windshield parked in a garage after his accident at Chappaquiddick Island near Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.,1969. (Photo: Santi Visalli/Getty Images)

The body of Mary Jo Kopechne, former employee of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is removed from a charter plane at Wilkes-Barre-Scranton airport and taken to a Plymouth, Pa. funeral home. Miss Kopechne died July18, 1969, at Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard in a car driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after it plunged into an island pond. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Joseph Kopechne of Berkley, N.J., supports his weeping wife Gwen as the grieving parents of drowning victim Mary Jo Kopechne, 29, walk into St. Vincent’s Chruch in Plymouth, Pa., for funeral services for their daughter, July 2, 1969. (Photo: AP)

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and his wife, Joan, pass a tombstone as they attend the burial of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on July 22, 1969 in Plymouth, Pa. (Photo: AP)

The two car ferry “On Time” carrying tourists approaches slip on Chappaquiddick Island on trip from Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard on July 25, 1969. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was headed for this ferry landing late on July 18, when he took a wrong turn and plunged off a bridge and passenger Miss Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, of Washington, D.C., was killed. The Building at left is waiting room for ferry. (Photo: AP)

Sen. Edward Kennedy leaves the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown, Mass., on July 25, 1969, after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident. Late on July 18, Kennedy’s car plunged into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island. He was able to escape but Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, his passenger, drowned. (Photo: Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Kennedy is shown on the TV screen as he spoke to the nation concerning the controversy surrounding his recent accident, July 25, 1969. In the 15-minute talk, Kennedy denied being under the influence of liquor when his automobile plunged from a narrow island bridge, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. He also dispelled rumors of immoral conduct between the two. He left the question of whether or not he should remain in office, up in the air, for further consideration by both himself and the people of Massachusetts. (Photo: RR/AP)

Attorneys Edward Hanify (R) and Robert Clark Jr. (L-rear) talk with reporters as they emerged from Dukes County Court in Edgartown, Mass. The two are representing Sen. Edward Kennedy, and attended sessions where the ground rules of the inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who was killed last month in a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy, were discussed with Judge James Boyle. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Kennedy, dark glasses, chats with members of family and guests of the yacht Marlin during cruise off Hyannis Port on July 29, 1969. Kennedy has been in seclusion at his Squaw Island home, on Cape Cod awaiting response of the people of Massachusetts to help him decide whether to resign from the senate. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident on Chappaquiddick Island in which passenger was killed. (Photo: Bill Chaplis/AP)

Judge James A. Boyle tips his hat as he leaves the Edgartown District Court after meeting with District Attorney., Boyle Dinis in Edgartown, Mass., on Aug. 8, 1969. Judge Boyle who will preside, set Sept. 3, as the date he will start the inquest into the cause of death of 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne. She was killed July 18 when the car Sen. Kennedy was driving plunged off a narrow wooded bridge. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Aerial view of the Dike Bridge and surrounding land. Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in the car that Sen. Ted Kennedy drove over the side of this bridge in July, 1969. (Photo: Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Tourists pause outside the house in Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard on Aug. 25, 1969, where a cook-out was held on July 18, 1969 where Sen. Edward Kennedy hosted a reunion for campaign workers from Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Leaving the party on July 18, 1969, Sen. Edward Kennedy drove a car off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick island, Martha’s Vineyard with campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, who downed in the submerged car. (Photo: AP)

A night time view of Dike Bridge, the site of Senator Ted Kennedy’s auto accident that resulted in the death of a campaign worker. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Joseph and Gwen Kopechne, parents of Mary Jo Kopechne, leave the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Oct. 21, 1969, after the hearings ended on a petition to exhume the body of their daughter, who died in Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s car. (Photo: Paul Vathis/AP)

Dr. Werner Spitz, deputy chief medical examiner from Baltimore, is shown after testifying during the second day of a hearing on a petition to exhume the body of Mary Jo Kopechne for an autopsy, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Oct. 21, 1969. Dr. Spitz took the stand and testified that an autopsy on the body would not prove anything. Kopechne died when the car, driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy, plunged off the Dike Bridge into the channel between Chappaquiddick Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. (Photo: Paul Vathis/AP)

Sen. Edward Kennedy is trailed by reporters and cameraman as he arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston, Mass. Earlier in the day the Massachusetts Supreme Court announced they have granted Senator Kennedy’s request for a closed hearing into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

This is the special press room setup in the basement of the Methodist church on Jan. 4, 1970 at Edgartown where a corps of newsmen will use the facilities for coverage of inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne who died July 18, 1969, when Sen. Edward Kennedy’s car plunged into a Martha’s Vineyard pond. (Photo: AP)

Sen. Edward Kennedy escorts wife, Joan, through crowd of newsmen to Dukes County Court House for start of inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Edgartown, Mass., on Jan. 5, 1970. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The five young women that attended the party on Chappaquiddick Island the night Mary Jo Kopechne was killed return to airport terminal from plane after trouble cropped up with the plane, Edgartown, Mass., Jan. 8, 1970. Earlier in the day they had testified in fourth and last day of inquest into death of Miss Kopechne involving Sen. Edward Kennedy. (L-R) Rosemary Keough, Maryellen Lyons, Nance Lyons, Susan Tannenbaum and Esther Newberg. Behind-right is one of the lawyers, Daniel Daly. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Police officers line steps of Dukes County Court House in Edgartown, Mass., Jan. 6, 1970, during inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne who died in auto driven by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy when it plunged from bridge on Chappaquiddick Island and into a pond last July 18. (Photo: AP)

District Judge James A. Boyle of Edgartown, Mass., who presided over a secret inquest into the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in Sen. Edward Kennedy’s car said he found “probable cause” Kennedy “operated negligently” and appears to have contributed to a girl’s death, according to inquest documents made public. Sen. Kennedy is shown during a luncheon recess of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Harry A. Blackmun on April 29, 1970. Kennedy is a member of the committee. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Two court officers push open doors for newsmen, who rush out of Superior Court, April 30, 1970 in Boston, with copies of the Kopechne inquest court record and Judge James A. Boyle’s 12- page report. Mary Jo Kopechne died in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island last July 18. Sen. Edward Kennedy was the driver of the car. ( \Photo: A.E. Maloof/AP)

Map of Chappaquiddick Island, just off the island of Martha’s Vineyard, that shows the locations of the major events of the evening of July 18, 1969, when a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy crashed off of a bridge resulting in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, late 1969. (Photo: Express Newspapers/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Kennedy on June 29, 1969, shortly after the infamous Chappaquiddick drowning incident involving Mary Jo Kopechne. (Photo: John Loengard/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Kennedy announces he will run for re-election of his Senate seat on June 11, 1970 in Boston, Mass., during a press conference attended by daughter Kara, 10; son Ted Jr., 8; Patrick, 3; and wife Joan Kennedy. (Photo: Charles Dixon/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)