The worst moment of Joseph R. Biden’s life — the 1972 car crash that killed his wife and baby daughter — has drawn renewed attention over a falsehood that the former vice president repeated for years: that the other driver was drunk.
From 2001-07, Mr. Biden indicated at least twice that the tractor-trailer driver who hit his wife’s car had been drinking, even though the state official who oversaw the investigation and the driver’s daughter said that wasn’t true.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Pamela Hamill, the daughter of driver Curtis C. Dunn, called on Mr. Biden to apologize publicly after he told a crowd that her father “drank his lunch” before the accident, according to a 2008 article in the Newark [Delaware] Post.
“A tractor-trailer, a guy who allegedly — and I never pursued it — drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch, broadsided my family and killed my wife instantly and killed my daughter instantly and hospitalized my two sons,” Mr. Biden said in 2007.
In a 2001 speech at the University of Delaware, he referred to an “errant driver who stopped to drink instead of drive” and “hit my children and my wife and killed them,” according to a 2008 report in NewsBusters, citing a 2001 “Inside Edition” report.
Mr. Biden apparently stopped making the claim after a burst of media attention.
In a January article in Politico, Ms. Hamill said that Mr. Biden called her to apologize following a 2009 CBS report on the discrepancy.
“He apologized for hurting my family in any way,” she said. “So we accepted that — and kind of end of story from there.”
Mr. Dunn, who died in 1999, hit the station wagon driven by 30-year-old Neilia Biden as she drove to buy a Christmas tree with the Bidens’ three young children: Beau, 4; Hunter, 3, and Naomi, 13 months.
The rig overturned as Mr. Dunn swerved to avoid the collision, but he “ran to the wrecked car and was the first to offer assistance,” the Post reported.
Now-retired Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy, who oversaw the investigation as chief deputy attorney general, told Politico, “She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not.”
In 2008, he told the Post that rumors about alcohol playing a role in the accident were “incorrect.”
Townhall’s Guy Benson called the vice president’s inaccurate references to drinking, which first appeared in 2001, “bizarre and disturbing.”
“The whole situation is sad enough, why embellish it with what amounts to be an unsupported smear of a man who — according to the authorities — was not drunk, did not cause the accident, and immediately sought to ‘render assistance’ to the victims?” asked Mr. Benson in a Thursday op-ed.
Mr. Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential primary front-runner, has been criticized for embellishing his speeches with exaggerations and inaccuracies, such as his claim that he met with Parkland students at the White House after the 2018 shooting, even though he left office in January 2017.
RedState’s Elizabeth Vaughn said Mr. Biden’s “mischaracterization of this accident doesn’t surprise me.”
“It’s part of a pattern of behavior that we’ve come to associate with Biden,” she said in a Thursday post. “He has a history of embellishing events which have occurred and occasionally inventing entire stories out of whole cloth if it serves his purpose. Put another way, this man’s word is not to be trusted.”
The Biden boys recovered from injuries sustained in the crash, which happened six weeks after Mr. Biden was elected to his first term in the Senate. Beau Biden died in 2015 of cancer.
In the 2008 article, Ms. Hamill said she worried that without a Biden rebuttal, the “drunk driver” angle could eventually take root in the public narrative. The claim had already appeared in several articles about Mr. Biden leading up to the election.
“Suppose he becomes the next vice president,” she told the Post. “Movies could be made about him and books could be written about him, all falsely portraying my father as a drunk driver. We need to set the record straight and clear my father’s name right now before this goes any further.”