Kerry Kennedy had a generic version of the potent prescription sleep aid Ambien in her system after she struck a tractor-trailer while driving erratically on a Westchester County highway this month, court papers filed on Wednesday said.
Final toxicology results showed that no other drugs or alcohol were in Ms. Kennedy’s blood or urine, a deposition submitted to the court by prosecutors said.
Ms. Kennedy, the former wife of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, had told the police after she had been stopped that she takes the drug Synthroid every morning at 7:30 for a thyroid condition, and on occasion, she takes Ambien to help her sleep.
She is facing a misdemeanor charge of driving with ability impaired by drugs and has pleaded not guilty.
Ms. Kennedy was arrested on July 13 after she swerved into a tractor-trailer on Interstate 684 and continued driving, exiting the highway just after 8 a.m. Officer Joel Thomas of the North Castle police found a dazed and disoriented Ms. Kennedy behind the wheel of her damaged 2008 Lexus, with the engine running and a flat tire. A witness reported that Ms. Kennedy left the accident scene, court papers said.
Officer Thomas said Ms. Kennedy was “swaying” and exhibited impaired speech. She told the police she felt dizzy and had no memory of a collision, court documents show.
Zolpidem, a hypnotic and sedative class drug prescribed by physicians to treat temporary insomnia, has been known to cause strange, though rare, side effects. The reported problems include sleepwalking, short-term amnesia and “sleep-driving” — driving while not fully awake, according to a guide approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Ms. Kennedy told the officer that the two medications were “next to each other on her counter, and it is possible she took the sleep medication instead of the thyroid medication,” according to the papers filed by the Westchester district attorney, Janet DiFiore.
The toxicology tests, administered nearly five hours after the accident, showed that Ms. Kennedy, 52, had evidence of zolpidem, the chemical found in Ambien and other sleep aids, in her system.
The amount of zolpidem detected in Ms. Kennedy’s blood — 14 nanograms per milliliter — is low, said David M. Benjamin, a clinical pharmacologist and forensic toxicologist based in Massachusetts. Dr. Benjamin said it would be difficult, based on the level alone, to pinpoint when she took the zolpidem.
Ms. Kennedy had also made the suggestion, based on neurological testing performed by her own doctors, that the collision resulted from a possible partial seizure caused by a long-ago head injury.
A Westchester County spokeswoman, Donna Greene, said the toxicology results were completed by the county laboratory and turned over to the district attorney’s office on Tuesday. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the district attorney, declined to comment on Wednesday.
Ms. Kennedy’s lawyer, John D. Pappalardo, did not return requests for comment.
Speaking to reporters outside a North Castle courthouse after her July 17 arraignment, Ms. Kennedy said the neurological tests at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan “led my doctors to believe that this accident was caused not by a sleeping aid but by a complex partial seizure.”
Ms. Kennedy’s arrest came two months after the suicide of Mary R. Kennedy, the estranged wife of Kerry Kennedy’s brother Robert F. Kennedy Jr. On Wednesday, Conor Kennedy, the 18-year-old son of Mary and Robert Kennedy Jr., asked a Surrogate’s Court judge to name him as the administrator of his mother’s estate.
During a proceeding in the curt, a judge indicated that he would probably approve the request, said Conor Kennedy’s lawyer, Brandon Sall.
Mary Kennedy hanged herself on May 16.
Kerry Kennedy's Blood Contained Sleep Aid After Crash, Test Finds – New York Times