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RFK daughter says sleeping pill, car crash memories 'jumbled'

Kerry Kennedy, daughter of assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, arrives to the Westches
Kerry Kennedy, daughter of assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, arrives to the Westches

By Victoria Cavaliere

WHITE PLAINS, New York (Reuters) - A daughter of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy told a court on Wednesday that she had not realized she had taken a sleeping pill before sideswiping a truck in 2012 and that her memory of the incident was "jumbled."

Kerry Kennedy said on the third day of her impaired driving trial that she had intended to take a thyroid medication before getting into her silver Lexus, rather than the sleeping aid zolpidem, known by its brand name Ambien.

A toxicology report showed the sleeping drug in her bloodstream.

She said she hardly remembered operating her vehicle and had no memory of the accident north of New York City.

"If I realized I was impaired, I would have pulled over," she said. "My memories at that time are really jumbled."

Earlier in the trial, prosecutors said Kennedy should have realized she had taken the sleeping pill before the July 13, 2012, accident, in which no one was injured.

Police found Kennedy, the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, slumped over the wheel of her car, groggy and disoriented.

She passed an alcohol test at the scene, registering zero alcohol in her system, police witnesses testified earlier this week at Westchester County Court.

Kennedy, 54, had driven more than five miles at high speed, swerving into other lanes and smashing into a tractor-trailer on a highway about 35 miles north of New York City and then driving away. The truck's driver, Rocco Scuiletti of Poughkeepsie, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Kennedy said her two medications were on her kitchen counter the morning of the event and she grabbed the wrong bottle without noticing.

She said she had a cappuccino at home and then got in her car and drove away.

"I remember getting on to the exit ramp," she said. "I really have no memory after that."

Prosecutors grilled Kennedy about how frequently she used Ambien, which she said she began using occasionally 10 years ago. Kennedy agreed with Westchester County Assistant District Attorney Doreen Lloyd's assessment that it was "careless" to grab a medication without looking at the label.

Kennedy said that before she got behind the wheel of her car, she had not experienced any dizziness or drowsiness that would have alerted her that she had taken the pill.

"So this Ambien pill overtook you without warning?" Lloyd asked.

"Yes," Kennedy replied.

She became visibly flustered and asked to speak to the judge when prosecutors asked why, days after the incident, Kennedy released a statement to the media saying that her doctors believed she might have suffered a partial seizure.

"I didn't know what had happened and I was scared," Kennedy said. "I wanted the truth to be out there."

Friends and family including mother Ethel Kennedy, the widow of the slain senator, have been in the courtroom all week to support Kennedy, an author and human rights activist.

Defense attorneys said the drug's effects were so quick and so powerful that Kennedy was essentially "sleep driving" and was unaware of her actions.

"I never in my entire life had experienced this," Kennedy said. "I really just don't remember."

A jury trial for an impaired driving charge, an unclassified misdemeanor, is unusual. The charge carries up to a year in jail, but with no prior record a defendant is unlikely to serve an time behind bars, court officials said.

Closing arguments in the case are expected Thursday.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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