Many famous people have been charged with vehicular manslaughter, including Matthew Broderick. But one lesser known case is that of Laura Bush, whose car struck and killed a 17-year-old classmate in 1963. The former First Lady's accident is a tragedy that was kept quiet for years by the City Attorney and police department from Bush’s hometown of Midland, Texas. Officials attempted to keep the police report from being released, but Bush finally acknowledged and dedicated a portion of her memoir, Spoken from the Heart, to that night when a young man lost his life.
In interviews over the decades, some hometown friends have wondered how she didn't see the stop sign in the clear, dry, barely trafficked intersection where the crash occurred. No matter the circumstances, the tragedy had a profound effect on the victim's family, the community of Midland, Texas, and Laura herself.
On November 6, 1963, 17-year-old Laura Bush, then Laura Welch, and her friend Judy Dykes, were on their way to see a movie at the drive-in theater in Laura’s hometown of Midland, Texas. Laura was driving her father’s car, a new Chevy Impala. She ran a stop sign going about 50 mph and slammed into Michael Douglas’s Corvair Monza, a compact sedan. News reports from 1963 state that Douglas suffered a broken neck when he was thrown from his vehicle. He was pronounced dead on arrival when he reached Midland Memorial Hospital.
On Larry King Live, Laura Bush explained that she and Michael Douglas grew up together and were very good friends; he's even in home videos from her childhood. In her book, Spoken from the Heart, she describes her and Michael's relationship as close. “[Michael and I] talked on the phone for hours, and Mike’s circle of friends included nearly all of my own," she wrote. "And so it was unbelievable that it was his car in that almost always empty intersection.”
Mike was extremely well liked in high school. He was the school football and track star, and he was nominated Most Popular Boy as a junior, an award that typically went to a senior.
Michael Douglas’s father was driving behind his son when Laura crashed into the boy’s vehicle. In an interview with Larry King, Laura says that after the accident her and Judy stood to the side of their car and watched a man rush over to the injured victim. Judy said "I think that's [the victim's] father." Bush responded, "No, that can't be the father. That's Mr. Douglas." Laura simply couldn't believe that her close friend was the victim of the car accident.
In the early ‘60s, it was rare for police to administer a sobriety test, so the police report from the crash didn’t indicate whether Laura had been drinking. In her book, Bush insists that she was not intoxicated. Despite a lack of evidence, much speculation surrounds this subject, however. A.L. Bardach from The Daily Beast interviewed several of Laura's old neighborhood friends, and they said she grew up surrounded by alcohol. Richard Pendleton was just a few years older than Laura, and he was the brother of Laura's close friend, Jeannie Bohn. Pendleton described Laura’s parents as habitual heavy drinkers:
What I remember about them is that every day at 4:00, you could set the clock for Happy Hour. Her mom and dad were lushes. They were nice people, don’t get me wrong. I feel badly about saying that, but it was every day about 4:00 'til about 7. And it was every day. I can always remember going over there, collecting for the paper, and they would be all in a good mood and laughing and partying and again always very friendly with me. I can’t stress that enough. They were nice people. But they were partying people, so Laura grew up in that type of household. She was a party girl.