Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
In September 2019, when then-presidential candidate Joe Biden brought out the story of his confrontation with a gang member named “Corn Pop” during his time as a lifeguard at a Wilmington, Delaware, pool, it’s interesting how quickly Democratic leaders knew to come to his defense.
There was a gang member in Baltimore with the moniker Corn Pop, they pointed out! The local NAACP chairman backed up his story! There was an obituary for a notorious dude who had that nickname! See, Biden’s not lying!
There was a reason behind the decided quickness with which everyone rushed to Biden’s side: People don’t trust his version of events on pretty much anything. Biden’s campaign-trail anecdotes and stories didn’t just have the tocsin of untruth about them. They were sometimes painfully fake. (The trend has continued since he became president.)
The most obvious example of this was a fabricated story he told about a war hero who was, at best, a composite. At worst? The Washington Post may have described it best: “In the space of three minutes, Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.”
Something like that is ultimately harmless, though. I know that may sound strange, but think about it: No one’s reputation has been denigrated.
The same can’t be said for the sad case of Curtis C. Dunn.
To be fair, Dunn was involved in what’s easily the most traumatic event of Biden’s life. In December 1972, mere weeks after Biden was elected to the Senate for his first term in an upset victory, his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping.
Dunn was the truck driver who hit them. According to the Newark Post in Delaware, Neilia Biden drove the car into the path of Dunn’s tractor-trailer for reasons unknown, perhaps having to do with her head being turned.
Dunn apparently did everything possible to avoid a collision, according to reports, even overturning his truck in the process. He was also the first person to render assistance at the scene.
This is where reality and Joe Biden diverge, however, and in a profoundly reprehensible manner.
To hear Biden tell it — at least for a very long time — Dunn’s drinking had played a part in the accident.
“A tractor-trailer, a guy who allegedly — and I never pursued it — drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch, broadsided my family and killed my wife instantly and killed my daughter instantly and hospitalized my two sons,” he said at a 2007 event in Iowa, according to Politico.
In 2001, meanwhile, Biden talked about how Dunn was “an errant driver who stopped to drink instead of drive and hit a tractor-trailer, hit my children and my wife and killed them.”
This was a common story Biden would peddle during the early part of the millennium.
The problem is that, from all evidence, it was totally untrue. Dunn was not only cleared by law enforcement but some of his most vociferous defenders were those involved in the case.
“The rumor about alcohol being involved by either party, especially the truck driver [Dunn], is incorrect,” former Delaware Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy, who oversaw the investigation as a prosecutor, said in 2008 as the story was again recirculating.
Herlihy was terser when talking about the accident to Politico: “She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not.”
“In the end,” he said, “I concurred in their decision that there was no fault on his part.”
Keep in mind that most of this happened after Dunn’s death in 1999, too. Pamela Hamill, one of his seven children, went public with her anger after the story began getting repeated ad nauseam around the time of Biden’s nomination as Barack Obama’s vice-presidential candidate.
“I just burst into tears,” Hamill said of hearing the clip of how her father “drank his lunch” before the accident.
“The story already is tragic enough, why did he have to sensationalize it by saying my father was drunk? My family is outraged.”
To make things worse, she said she had sent Joe Biden a message of support in the aftermath of 9/11 lauding his remarks. He responded with a note that said, in part, “All that I can say is I am sorry for all of us and please know that neither I or my sons feel any animosity whatsoever.”
A 2010 profile of Biden in The Atlantic said that he “has the limber storyteller’s tendency to stretch.”
That may be fine when you’re talking about “Corn Pop” and composite stories about war heroes. When you’re accusing someone of drunken driving in an accident where your wife and daughter were killed, that’s awfully close to libel.
He blamed an innocent man for years despite the fact that all of the evidence showed Dunn hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Suppose he becomes the next vice president,” Hamill said in 2008. “Movies could be made about him and books could be written about him, all falsely portraying my father as a drunk driver.
“We need to set the record straight and clear my father’s name right now before this goes any further.”
She did, and that played a role in alerting us to how far this “limber storyteller” will go.
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