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Russia: Car Crash In Vladivostok Provokes Bitter Comments

Vladivostok, 27 November 1998 RFE/RL) -- The U.S. consul general posted to the Russian Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok is the subject of angry local and national press comment following his involvement in a traffic accident last month.

The accident occurred on October 27 just after dark, when the car Consul General Douglas Kent was driving struck a car in which 23-year-old Aleksandr Kashin was riding. Doctors have said Kashin's neck and spine suffered severe trauma in the accident and that he is paralyzed from the chest down and unable to move his fingers.

A reporter for one Vladivostok daily newspaper said that the angry Russian press comment isn't over Kent's actions during or immediately after the accident. Lyudmila Bryzgalina said Kent initially responded properly by stopping where many Russians simply would have driven off. She says media interest -- which has included stories in Moscow's Komsomolskaya Pravda -- lies in the perception that Kent doesn't care about the hospitalized man.

Bryzgalina said that because Russian medical care is of a poor quality, Kent should be offering financial help.

Kashin's family has harshly criticized the diplomat's behavior. His mother said the family has to buy her son's medications, and that he at first required 10 injections a day at a cost of 10 rubles each. She said this was a heavy burden for the family. She also expressed anger because she said Kent had never called to apologize.

Kashin himself, when asked if he wanted an apology, reacted angrily, saying it wouldn't restore the use of his arms and legs.

A U.S. Consulate spokeswoman has denied that Kent is indifferent to Kashin's condition. Spokeswoman Susan Krause said Kent has phoned the hospital to make sure Kashin is all right. She said Kent spoke to the doctor and was assured Kashin "is receiving full care and isn't being charged for it."

Krause also said that Kent has asked the hospital for X-rays of Kashin, so that he can show them to doctors in the United States. She said Kent wanted to see if American doctors could give advice that would aid Kashin's recovery. She added that Kent has "offered to do anything he can."

Officials at the U.S. consulate have indicated that the driver of the car Kashin was riding in was speeding at the time of the accident. But Viktor Chaika, head of the local State Inspectorate for Road Safety, said a preliminary investigation suggests Kent was guilty of causing the crash. He said the law requires a court hearing.

However, Andrei Zhiltsov, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said no criminal charges against Kent are possible because of his diplomatic immunity. Zhiltsov noted that "only the president of the United States can deprive (Kent) of immunity." Zhiltsov said that at most, Russian officials could demand that Kent be removed from the country. He did not indicate that such a demand was expected.

(Working is a Vladivostok-based contributor to RFE/RL. Nonna Chernyakova contributed to this report.)