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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kostroma Governor Killed in Car Collision

Itar-TassViktor Shershunov
Kostroma Governor Viktor Shershunov was killed Thursday when his Mercedes collided with a Ford sedan traveling the wrong way on a highway outside Moscow.

Shershunov, 56, is the second governor in as many years to die in an accident caused by an apparent traffic violation.

The governor and his driver, Viktor Tsvetkov, 42, died on the spot from injuries suffered in the crash, while the driver of the other car was hospitalized in serious condition, said Yelena Rossokhina, a spokeswoman for the Moscow Region Prosecutor's Office.

The accident occurred at about 12:40 a.m. Thursday on the 76th kilometer of Yaroslavskoye Shosse, north of Moscow.

Shershunov was traveling without a police escort, said Yury Tsikunov, a deputy Kostroma governor who assumed the role of acting governor Thursday.

Rossokhina said Shershunov's Mercedes E-430 smashed into a Ford Focus driven by a Yaroslavl resident, apparently after the Ford swerved into the oncoming lane.

A guardrail, however, separates the two lanes on the 76th-kilometer stretch of the highway.

"It is impossible to swerve into the oncoming lane," said Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of the Free Choice Motorists' Movement, a nongovernmental organization.

Rossokhina acknowledged that there were "some contradictions" about how the crash occurred. "The Investigative Committee of the Moscow Region Prosecutor's Office is investigating the matter," she said, without elaborating.

Lysakov said he did not know who was at fault but voiced alarm that another government vehicle with flashing blue lights had been involved in a fatal accident. "Cars with flashing lights behave like ambulances. They think the streets are theirs and don't pay attention to others," he said.

About one out of the 450 car crashes every day in Russia involves a driver with flashing lights, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Cars with flashing lights are reserved for federal and regional officials, and they are blamed for many of the accidents that kill about 35,000 people every year.

Altai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov died in August 2005 when his Mercedes grazed another car and crashed into a tree. The governor's car was traveling at more than 200 kilometers per hour with flashing lights and a siren. The driver of the other car, Oleg Shcherbinsky, was initially found guilty in the accident, but he was released amid national protests by Lysakov's group.

Lysakov said his organization would closely monitor the investigation into the latest accident and was ready to organize protests if necessary.

More than 312,000 people have been killed in car crashes over the past decade, more than the death toll in the Afghan and Chechen wars combined. Last month, 18 people died and 159 were injured in 148 accidents in Moscow alone.

President Vladimir Putin drew attention to the road deaths in his state-of-the-nation address in May last year and ordered the interior minister to find a way to reduce accidents.

Shershunov, born Nov. 16, 1950, worked in the Kostroma Regional Prosecutor's Office before being elected governor in December 1996. He won re-election in 2000, receiving 63 percent in a second round of voting. Putin reappointed him in April 2005.

The Kostroma region will observe Friday and Saturday as days of mourning, with flags at half-mast and local television and radio stations replacing light entertainment with more serious programming, said a spokesman for the administration of the central Russian region.

Shershunov is survived by his wife and three sons. He will be buried Saturday in the regional capital, Kostroma.