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Coroner: Kennedy death accidental

Michael Kennedy
Michael Kennedy   

Witnesses: Michael, 39, was playing ski football when he hit tree

January 1, 1998
Web posted at: 1:38 p.m. EST (1838 GMT)

In this story:

ASPEN, Colorado (CNN) -- The body of Michael Kennedy was being flown back to Massachusetts for burial following a fatal ski accident on a Colorado slope the day before, authorities said Thursday. The Pitkin County Coroner ruled that the death was accidental.

Coroner Tom Walsh said Kennedy died of massive head and neck trauma after crashing into a tree at the Copper Bowl Ski Run on Aspen Mountain. Walsh said he had released the body to the family.

Michael Kennedy, 39, was a father of three and a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He was vacationing with several family members, including his mother, Ethel, when the accident occurred.

CNN's Alan Duke profiles Michael Kennedy
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

Kennedy was skiing without poles, reports CNN's Alan Duke
icon 230K/20 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Once considered a bright prospect for joining other Kennedys in a political career, Michael suffered a fall from grace last spring when it was alleged he had an affair with his family's underage baby sitter.

Described as an excellent skier, Kennedy was on a slope for those of intermediate skill Wednesday afternoon when he hit the tree, resort and sheriff's officials said.

The body was taken overnight to Grand Junction, Colorado, for transport to Massachusetts. An announcement on funeral arrangements was pending.

Witness accounts

Witnesses told CNN that the family members, including Michael, were playing a form of ski football and were not using ski poles as they skied at about 4:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m. EST).

The Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol reportedly had warned the family that such activity was too dangerous.

One witness, Couri Hay, told the New York Daily News he saw the Kennedys playing football on skis, using a snow-packed water bottle as a ball, when the accident happened. Hay said Michael Kennedy went out for a pass, caught the ball and slammed head-first into the tree.

Kennedy had been recording the game on video, skiing and taping at the same time, Hay said.

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"There was blood all over the snow," he said. Hay added: "Several of the Kennedys were on their knees saying the Lord's Prayer."

Kennedy was skiing at the end of a clear, mild day on snow described by other skiers as icy and very fast when he crashed. Such conditions make it more difficult for a skier to stop.

The ski patrol said it began administering first aid within four minutes of the accident, adding that Kennedy was brought to the base of the mountain for more care.

He was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was "treated in our emergency room for approximately one hour and was pronounced dead at 5:50 p.m. (7:50 p.m. EST)," said hospital spokeswoman Ginny Dyche.

"The Pitkin County Coroner's Office is conducting an investigation and will have further information (Thursday) morning," Dyche said.

Family reaction

Kennedy was the second of the 11 children born to the former senator and his wife, Ethel, to die under tragic circumstances. His brother David died in Florida in 1984 of a drug overdose.

A statement released by Ethel Kennedy said she and her family "are mourning the loss of beloved Michael."

"He was a special and wonderful father, son, brother, cousin and friend, and his family would appreciate prayers during this tragic time," the statement said.

"Michael's death is a terrible tragedy for the children, his wife, Vicki, and the whole family," said a statement from his brother, U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. "We will miss him dearly."

An uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, said in a statement that he and his wife were "heartbroken over Michael's tragic loss. ... We loved him and we will miss him very much." Michael managed the senator's 1994 re-election campaign.

Michael Kennedy was 10 years old when his father was assassinated in 1968; his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963; another uncle, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in a plane crash during World War II. An aunt, Kathleen Kennedy, also died in a plane crash.

Baby sitter scandal

Michael Kennedy was alleged to have had an affair with a teen-age baby sitter   

The Boston Globe reported in April that Kennedy's estranged wife, Victoria Gifford Kennedy, daughter of sportscaster Frank Gifford, caught the two in bed two years ago.

The subsequent furor was a factor in the withdrawal of Joseph P. Kennedy II from the 1998 gubernatorial race in Massachusetts.

Allegations that the baby sitter was 14 at the time the affair began prompted Norfolk County District Attorney Jeffrey Locke to investigate Kennedy. Sex with a minor constitutes statutory rape in Massachusetts.

Locke ultimately dropped the investigation after the woman, now a 19-year-old college student, and her family refused to press charges. Since then, Kennedy had remained largely out of sight.

Kennedy said earlier this year he was undergoing treatment for alcoholism. In a statement after the statutory rape investigation was dropped, he said only that he made serious mistakes.

While Kennedy had announced that he was separating from his wife of 16 years, recent reports indicated that the couple had reconciled.

Kennedy headed Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit organization that supplies heating fuel to the poor. Kennedy and his wife Victoria, 40, had three children: Michael Jr., 14, Kyle, 13, and Rory, 10.

Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report


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