WHITE PLAINS, New York (Reuters) - Kerry Kennedy, daughter of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was so disoriented after side-swiping a truck in 2012 that it appeared she may have suffered a seizure, a New York state trooper testified on Tuesday at her impaired driving trial.
Trooper Bradley Molloy was called to the witness stand by prosecutors on the second day of what local media has called a "drugged driving" trial. He said he examined Kennedy when she was found slumped over the wheel of her silver Lexus after the July 13, 2012, traffic accident.
She appeared disoriented and confused after the accident, possible signs of a seizure or stroke, Molloy told jurors in Westchester County Court.
Nobody was injured in the incident and Kennedy has pleaded not guilty to driving while impaired.
Molloy, a drug recognition expert, said Kennedy told him she might have accidentally mixed up a sleeping pill with the thyroid medication she had intended to take before getting behind the wheel of her car en route to the gym.
Kennedy's attorneys argued that a mix-up with her medications left Kennedy so disoriented she may have suffered an episode of "sleep driving," not realizing she was operating a vehicle.
Prosecutors argued that Kennedy should have become aware she had taken a sleeping pill and was unfit to drive.
Molloy said Kennedy, the ex-wife of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed an alcohol test at the scene, registering zero alcohol in her system. A toxicology report showed the sleeping medication zolpidem, known by its brand name Ambien, in her bloodstream.
Kennedy, 54, had driven more than 5 miles at high speed, swerving into other lanes and smashing into a tractor-trailer on a highway about 35 miles north of New York City.
"I was concerned a medical condition might have occurred," Molloy said.
Kennedy, wearing a brown jacket and scarf, listened attentively on Tuesday. Her mother, Ethel Kennedy, was also present.
Prosecutors also called Elizabeth Spratt, the director of toxicology at Westchester County Department of Labs and Research, to discuss zolpidem and its effects.
"It's not like you use the drug and five seconds later you're asleep," Spratt said. "That's not how this drug works."
Defense attorneys grilled Spratt on whether Ambien can cause "sleep driving."
"I don't know what side effects she experienced other than falling asleep," Spratt said. "I can't say whether she became aware," she had taken the drug, she added.
Kennedy's lawyers said Monday during opening statements that she mixed up the sleeping aid with her thyroid medication, and would not have continued to drive her car had she been aware of her mistake.
After the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday, defense attorneys called character witnesses.
Kennedy's sister, Rory, a documentary filmmaker and the youngest of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's 11 children, said her sister had a "stellar reputation."
"Kerry has a reputation for sobriety and general healthy living," she said. Kennedy is expected to take the stand later in the week.
During the 2012 incident, Kennedy crashed into a tractor-trailer on an interstate highway and drove away. The truck's driver, Rocco Scuiletti of Poughkeepsie, was also charged with leaving the scene of an accident.
If convicted of driving while impaired, a misdemeanor, Kennedy could face up to one year in county jail. But with no prior criminal record, Kennedy was unlikely to face jail time, said an official at Westchester County Court said.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Gunna Dickson