Mon Feb 13th, 2006 at 09:53:06 PM EST
This story is just so bizarre. All I have is what was in the paper this morning. Perhaps there are people here who have lived in or driven in Russia who might have a greater insight as to what the situation is.
The day started out normally enough:
The crash occurred on a beautiful morning Aug. 7 in the Altai region of Siberia. Shcherbinsky, 36, his wife and 12-year-old daughter, along with a neighbor and her son, were heading to a lake for a picnic. Gov. Mikhail Yevdokimov, 48, was on his way to the birthday celebration for a Soviet cosmonaut who hailed from a nearby village. His wife sat beside him in the back seat. Up front were his official driver and a bodyguard.
but things quickly went horribly wrong:
Shcherbinsky, driving a Toyota, was about 300 yards farther down the two-lane road. He was slowing, turn signal on, and easing into the turn, according to court records and testimony.
Yevdokimov's driver began to brake about 80 yards from the point of impact, but it was too late. The Mercedes hit the left side of the Toyota and became airborne, then slammed into a birch tree.
Yevdokimov's car was estimated to be travelling between 150 and 200kph (depending upon who you ask, of course). All but one occupant of Yevdokimov's car was killed in the accident.
Shcherbinsky was fortunate in the sense that he and the occupants of his car were not injured, but the Russian legal system had a nasty surprise in store for him.
More on the flip...
While tragic enough, here is where things went really wrong. Shcherbinsky's misfortune was that Yevdokimov was a popular politician.
On Feb. 3, the judge sentenced him to four years in a labor colony for careless driving leading to the death of others and for not yielding to a car with priority.
This case is in a sense just a symptom of a much larger problem. On the Russian roads there is a caste system.
Nowhere is the privilege -- and abuse -- of power more visible to ordinary Russians than on the roads, where politicians and bureaucrats, who have special license plates and blue lights for their luxury vehicles, speed recklessly, force other drivers aside and generally flout the rules. At the same time, ordinary citizens are subject to constant harassment from traffic police, who routinely demand small bribes. These irritants have become the source of open anger because many motorists can easily imagine themselves suffering Shcherbinsky's fate.
Even though I live in the US and I routinely see and complain about the abuses of power by Bush, Cheney and the rest of their crew, the situation in Russia is a stick in the eye for average Russians.