Yesterday, September 10th, a Russian police Mercedes--speeding over 100 miles per hour in a lane used by oncoming traffic--collided with a Russian Lada, injuring (or possibly killing) its driver and a passenger. The accident was documented by witnesses with cellphone cameras and covered by the Russian news site Gazeta.Ru.
According to witnesses, the accident occurred after traffic police failed to provide adequate warning about a lane closure on the Kaluzhskoe highway for the motorcade of, presumably, the Head of the Russia's Supreme Court. Early news reports said that the collision involved a common police vehicle. However, eyewitness photographs show a vehicle (a brand new Mercedes E-Klasse) far beyond the means of a "common policeman."
Aleksey Kollontai, Director of the Moscow Center for Accident Prevention, noted that the driver of the Mercedes demonstrated a high level of skill--not typical for a police officer in the Moscow suburbs. According to Mr. Kollontai, the car did not weave after the collision, nor did it suffer terrible damage (even after colliding "head on" with the two vehicles combined closure speed of approximately 170 miles an hour). The Lada--known for its dismal safety record and lacking airbags or a collision avoidance system--obviously fared much worse in the crash.
However, Mr. Kolontai states that the Mercedes driver "did everything possible to save the lives of the Lada passengers" by striking their vehicle at an angle (while Americans may not have heard about this practice, in Russia, escort cars can be called upon to clear out any vehicle that would appear unexpectedly on a road that has been shut down for a high level motorcade).
Mr. Kolontai's personal opinion was that while the escort driver did his job of protecting the motorcade, the Moscow Oblast police were ultimately to blame for the tragedy, because they failed to properly shut down the highway or give the Lada driver fair warning.
Deepening this roadside mystery, several witnesses provided conflicting accounts about the aftermath of the accident. For example, one driver claimed that the victims lying on the roadway were pulled from the Mercedes, while another insisted that they were from the Lada. One witness claimed that the militsia and "people in suits" were ignoring a body on the road, focusing instead on the quick removal of vehicles from the site of the accident. However, the police could not move fast enough, as the resulting traffic jam allowed witnesses to take numerous photographs at the scene. According to Gazeta.ru, all of the story contributors and photographers prefer to remain anonymous.
The Mercedes was not alone. All the other cars in the official motorcade--including a top of the line BMW, an Audi and a Ford Focus--were equipped with blue lights and moving in formation at high speeds into the opposite lanes of the highway. After the accident, the motorcade parked on the side of the road for about twenty minutes, then the drivers turned on their blue lights and took off, headed towards Moscow.
It is our hope that whoever was in those cars survived and, if so, that they recover from their injuries. Furthermore, we hope that the officials in the motorcade will come forward and help the victims and their families. And as always, whenever we hear about another preventable death on Russia's roads, we must ask the question: is all of this insane driving by Russian officials justified, or is it just a "power trip" display for others who occupy a lower social strata?