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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks after touring International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in New Alexandria, Pa. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks after touring International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in New Alexandria, Pa. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks after touring International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, in New Alexandria, Pa. (AP)

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke October 4, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Curtis Dunn, was driving a tractor-trailer when he collided with the station wagon that Neilia Biden, Joe Biden’s first wife, was driving. 
  • Neilia Biden and her and Joe Biden’s young daughter, Naomi, who they called Amy, were killed. 
  • Dunn was not charged in the collision and there was no evidence he had been drinking. 
  • Neilia Biden, who had a stop sign, pulled into his right of way when the crash occurred.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has endured several major losses since he stepped into political life. In 2015, His eldest son, Beau Biden, died of cancer. More than four decades earlier, a car crash killed his first wife and daughter

Biden and his second wife, Jill Biden, have discussed the tragedy publicly. But recent social media posts question how the incident has been framed.

"Biden said his first wife was killed by a drunken driver," one post says. "Fact check: Wife ran a stop sign and driver that hit her was NOT Drunk."

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Here’s what we know.

On Dec. 18, 1972, Joe Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their young daughter Naomi, who was known as Amy, were killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer in Hockessin, Del. Beau Biden and Joe Biden’s younger son, Hunter, were injured. Biden was in Washington at the time of the collision, interviewing prospective staff members.

Numerous news reports indicate Neilia Biden was pulling away from a stop sign — not "running" a stop sign — when the collision occurred. Early news stories also did not describe the other driver as being drunk. 

The day after the crash, the Associated Press reported that police said the Chevrolet station wagon Neilia Biden was driving "pulled from a stop sign" and was struck on the left side by a truck. The station wagon continued moving for "approximately 150 feet, spinning around, going backwards down an embankment and striking three trees."

In a story from August 2020, The News Journal in Delaware said Neilia Biden was driving west on Valley Road, a then-rural road in Hockessin, around 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 18. Her station wagon "pulled away from the stop sign" at an intersection when she was struck by the front side of the tractor-trailer being driven by Curtis Dunn, who was on his way home to Pennsylvania. 

Investigators found that alcohol didn’t play a role in the crash, according to a 2008 News Journal story. Dunn, who died in 1999, was not charged. But, the paper reported, Biden has suggested that Dunn was intoxicated when the crash occurred. 

In 2007, Biden, then the vice presidential nominee, said that a "guy who allegedly … drank his lunch" drove the truck that collided with Neilia Biden’s car. A clip from 2001 showed Biden describing the incident and saying the driver "stopped to drink instead of drive."

Dunn’s family disputed the characterization and a spokesman for Biden said in 2008 that Biden "fully accepts the Dunn family’s word that these rumors were false."

We haven’t found any instances since then of Biden suggesting that Dunn was drunk. 

The newspaper also quoted Jerome Herlihy, then a Delaware Superior Court judge who was chief deputy attorney general and worked with crash investigators in 1972. 

"The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver, is incorrect," Herlihy said. "If it were some part of a cause of the accident, there would have been a charge, simply because if you’re driving under the influence and kill someone in the process — whether it’s the wife of a U.S. senator or anybody else — there’s going to be a charge."

Pamela Hamill, Dunn’s daughter, has said that her father didn’t drink any alcohol the day of the crash and was haunted by its memory for years. 

"He grieved over that," she said in an interview with CBS News.

Herlihy also said that investigators discussed several possible causes for the crash, including that Neilia Biden turned her head and didn’t see the truck as she turned, the News Journal said. 

The police file for the crash no longer exists but, Politico reported in 2019, "coverage in the newspapers at the time made clear that fault was not in question. For whatever reason, Neilia Biden, who was holding the baby, ended up in the right of way of Dunn’s truck coming down a long hill." She had a stop sign and Dunn did not, Herlihy said.

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Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 23, 2020

Politico, Biden says he thought about suicide after 1972 death of his wife and daughter, Aug. 17, 2020

USA Today, Jill Biden talks of Joe Biden’s ‘unstoppable’ will amid grief: Takeaways from night 2 of the DNC, Aug. 18, 2020

The Associated Press, Sen. Biden’s wife, baby killed in Delaware crash, Dec. 19, 1972

UPI, Biden’s wife, child killed in car crash, Dec. 19, 1972

The News Journal, The woman behind Biden’s first victory, Aug. 23, 2020

Tulsa World, Intersecting lives, Oct. 12, 2008

The Globe and Mail, Joe Biden, America’s middle man, Aug. 13, 2020

The News Journal, No DUI crash that killed Biden’s 1st wife, but he’s implied otherwise, Sept. 4, 2008

CBS News, Driver in Biden crash wanted name cleared, March 24, 2009

Politico Magazine, How grief became Joe Biden’s ‘superpower,’ Jan. 25, 2019

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