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Family of victim who died in infamous crash speaks out

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)--On July 18th, 1969, Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a canal on his way home from a party on Chappaquiddick Island.

While Kennedy survived the crash, his passenger, a Forty Fort native named Mary Jo Kopechne, did not. The incident was a black mark on Kennedy's political career, one that's said to have cost him the presidency.

It was also a great tragedy for the Kopechne family, which will soon play out on the big screen. 

"I was folding diapers, I had two little girls at the time, and I heard Bill answer the phone and uh he said "Mary Jo," he said, 'That's too bad'. And I knew she was dead, Mary Jo Kopechne's cousin, Georgetta Potoski said. 

It's been nearly 50 years since her cousin died in the infamous car crash on Chappaquiddick Island, where former Senator Ted Kennedy was behind the wheel.

"There are no words on my part that can express the terrible pain and suffering I feel over this tragic incident," Former U.S. Senator, Ted Kennedy. 

After all this time, Mary Jo's family is still searching for answers.

"Nobody really knows what happened at Chappaquiddick, except for the people who were on that island that night," Mary Jo Kopechne's relative, Bill Nelson said.

Although they'll always be left wondering about the fate of their relative.

"Without that last piece of the puzzle, it's hard to form an opinion about who should have done what and who is guilty of what, because you don't know exactly what happened that night," Nelson said.

They're still trying to move on and focus on the positive.

"We had to make a choice, we could keep going down the same dark path of regret and sadness or we could celebrate her life," Nelson said.

One piece of that celebration is the book that Georgetta and her son, Bill, wrote about Kopechne as a person.

"She was really smart. She was kind of a mentor for me. I always listening when she talked because she was very serious about life," Potoski said.

Another piece is the scholarship that her family has set up in her name at Misericordia University. And the most recent chapter in the Mary Jo Kopechne story will hit theaters in April.

Georgetta, Bill, and the rest of the family recently attended a private showing of the film, "Chappaquiddick" right her in Wilkes-Barre.

"The scene has played over and over in our head. The drive and the cottage, and the night because we've read articles and things like that, so it's interesting to see it up on the big screen. To see it captured and they capture it accurately," Nelson said.

The family says the producers stuck to the facts.

"It was the inquest Kennedy version of what happened that night. They weren't making anything up, they did the best with what they had and I thought it was wonderful," Potoski said.

And they were impressed with the effort made to tell their relative's a story.

"It seemed like everybody gave their all this movie, and that's admirable," Potoski said.

 

 


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