Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy crashed his car near the Capitol early yesterday, with the Rhode Island Democrat saying he was "disoriented" after having taken sleep medication and a prescription drug that can cause drowsiness.
A spate of news reports broke in midafternoon, with Roll Call, CNN and others quoting a police official as saying Mr. Kennedy had appeared intoxicated. The lawmaker's initial response to the reports made no mention of prescription drugs and said that he "consumed no alcohol prior to the incident." The alcohol claim was repeated in the later statement.
Later, however, Mr. Kennedy issued a longer statement saying the attending physician for Congress had prescribed Phenergan on Tuesday to treat the lawmaker's gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
Mr. Kennedy said he returned to his Capitol Hill home on Wednesday evening after a final series of votes in Congress and took "prescribed" amounts of Phenergan and Ambien, another prescribed drug that he occasionally takes to fall asleep.
"Some time around 2:45 a.m., I drove the few blocks to the Capitol Complex believing I needed to vote," his second statement said. "Apparently, I was disoriented from the medication."
No sobriety tests were conducted at the scene. Mr. Kennedy, 38, spent time at a drug rehabilitation clinic before he attended Providence College.
Mr. Kennedy appeared to be intoxicated when he crashed his Ford Mustang into a barrier on Capitol Hill early yesterday morning, said Louis P. Cannon, president of the Washington chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Mr. Cannon, who was not at the accident scene, said the officers involved in the accident were instructed by an official "above the rank of patrolman" to take Mr. Kennedy home.
A letter written by a Capitol Police officer to acting Chief Christopher McGaffin said Mr. Kennedy appeared to be staggering when he left the vehicle after the crash about 3 a.m. The letter was first reported by Roll Call.
Mr. Kennedy said he was late for a vote, Officer Greg Baird said in the letter to Chief McGaffin. Officer Baird is acting chairman of the Capitol Hill FOP chapter. The last vote of the night had occurred almost six hours earlier.
The Democratic lawmaker said he was driven home by Capitol Police.
"At no time did I ask for any special consideration," he said. "I simply complied with what the officers asked me to do."
Mr. Kennedy, the son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and his staff declined to discuss any further details of the accident. The congressman voted in the House as normal yesterday.
Capitol Police did not immediately return phone calls for comment. They issued a one-line statement saying they were investigating a traffic violation that occurred early in the morning at that location.
Officer Baird wrote Chief McGaffin that two sergeants who responded to the accident conferred with the watch commander and were ordered to leave the scene. He said that after the officers left, Capitol Police officials gave Mr. Kennedy a ride home.