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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Wants $9M for Car Crash

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for a Russian man paralyzed in a car accident with a former American diplomat are seeking to file a $9 million civil lawsuit in U.S. courts, and they allege the State Department is obstructing their efforts.

The former diplomat, Douglas Kent, was the U.S. consul general in Vladivostok when the accident occurred there nearly three years ago. The crash left Alexander Kashin, then a 23-year-old computer programmer, a quadriplegic.

Kashin's lawyers and Russian media accounts have blamed Kent for the accident, saying he failed to yield the right-of-way as his Chevy Blazer passed through a yellow flashing light at an intersection on the night of Oct. 27, 1998. But Kent says yellow lights were flashing in both directions, he was driving slowly, and Kashin was a passenger in a car that was running without headlights.

"If the car in which Kashin was riding had its lights on and thus had been the least bit visible, I would certainly have stopped in plenty of time," Kent wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "I have very often thought through that horrible night and although I certainly wish I had not been driving there and then, I cannot to this day imagine how I could have prevented the accident given the circumstances."

Kashin's American attorney, John Gallagher of Philadelphia, said he has prepared a lawsuit but has not yet filed it because he has been unable to locate Kent and serve legal papers on him. Gallagher said the State Department refused to disclose his whereabouts.

Neyla Arnas, a spokeswoman for the department, said privacy regulations prevent it from releasing such information. "The bottom line is, by law we are precluded from doing this," she said.

In his e-mail, Kent said he no longer works for the State Department and declined to discuss his current job or where he is living.

He said the accident occurred as he was driving home after working out in a gym at a Vladivostok hotel. Because of the bad state of the roads and street lighting, he said, he slowed at the intersection to 10 to 15 kilometers an hour. "Suddenly a white sedan appeared in front of me," he wrote. "It was traveling blind and at a high rate of speed." Kashin was sitting in the back seat of that car, which was propelled by the collision into oncoming traffic.

According to a translation of a Russian police report provided by Gallagher, Kent refused to take a test for alcohol, citing his diplomatic status. Kent said he was sober and asked to take a breathalyzer test, but none was available. Under instructions from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, he said, he was not allowed to submit to a blood test.

In March 1999, Russian officials asked the embassy to waive Kent's diplomatic immunity. The United States refused, and Kent was ordered home for his protection.

The case became something of a cause c?l?bre in Russia and was often compared there with the handling of Georgy Makhardze, a Georgian diplomat in the United States who was involved in a 1997 drunken-driving accident in Washington that killed a 16-year-old, Joviane Waltrick.

Under U.S. pressure, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze waived Makharadze's diplomatic immunity, clearing the way for his arrest and prosecution. He eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced in December 1997 to seven to 21 years. He was released from a federal prison in New York in July 2000 to serve the rest of his sentence in his homeland.

"This young man has effectively had his life taken away from him, and we don't even say we are sorry," Gallagher said. "The arrogance of the U.S. is incredible."

According to Gallagher, Kashin cannot walk, sit up or dress himself. "His parents do their best, but the total disability allowance in Russia is 324 rubles, or about $12 a month," the lawyer said. "He is on the point of starvation, if we don't reach a resolution in the near future."

Kent said he visited Kashin after the accident and paid for $5,000 to $6,000 of his medical expenses. "I did not feel the accident was my fault at all (and still do not)" he wrote, "but it was clear that his family was poor and absolutely no one else would help him if I did not."