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Russia March 10, 2008
Douglas Kent’s Hit and Run
By Mark Grueter Browse author

In 1998, Douglas Kent, serving as the American Consul General in Vladivostok, crashed his SUV into another car in the city’s downtown district. The driver of the other car, a local named Alexander Kashin, barely survived with serious injuries. Police reported that Kent was drunk at the time of the crash, but he refused to take a sobriety test, dubiously citing diplomatic immunity. Kent wobbled away from his gruesome near-manslaughter scene unharmed and scot-free, and was quickly whisked out of Russia by the U.S. State Department.

Kashin, meanwhile, wound up in a wheelchair paralyzed from the chest down, locked in a judicial struggle against the U.S. Government. The struggle was over Washington’s refusal to pay for Kashin’s medical bills—bills that he couldn’t afford, and that he couldn’t work to pay off after being paralyzed by a U.S. government representative.

Drunk driver Douglas Kent

It was clear that Kent was responsible for the car accident, according to both eyewitness testimony and police reports from the scene. Even a lower American court system ruled against Kent. The situation soon became such an embarrassment that the State Department offered Kashin some hush money to make their problem go away.

Kashin refused and linked up with sympathetic American lawyers based in Philadelphia who took on Kashin’s case pro bono. Although they won early legal battles against Kent, the decisions were overturned by a U.S. federal appeals court.

Nearly ten years after getting paralyzed by a drunk American government employee, Kashin still hasn’t received any compensation from either Kent or the U.S. Government, despite assurances from U.S. officials that he would. In 2001, James F. Shumaker, acting U.S. Consul General in Vladivostok, promised Vladimir Goryachev, representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Primorsky Krai, that Kent’s attorneys would offer a compensation that would satisfy Kashin. That never happened. Meanwhile, Kashin has spent all these years cooped up in a three-room flat where he lives with his parents in Bolshoy Kamen, a town south of Vladivostok in the Primorye Region. Kashin passes almost all of his time looking out of the window of his tiny 2.5 by 3.5 meter bedroom.

With the court case closed, and hope all but crushed, Kashin recently went on a hunger strike. He began on February 18 and was hospitalized 11 days later, on February 29. As of this writing, he still refuses to eat. It remains to be seen whether or not, after he inevitably loses consciousness, they’ll force an IV into his arm.

Three days before he was hospitalized, Vladivostok News editor Alyona Sokolova interviewed Kashin in his tiny bedroom. Here is what Kashin told her:

Kent’s car broke my neck. He broke my life. He did not answer for it. Nobody has answered. The court ruled Kent cannot be sued because he enjoys diplomatic immunity. The State Department he was working for can not be sued because it enjoys sovereign immunity. The only choice for me is to starve.

I spent a year here in this room looking out of the window after the court hearings were closed…I saw no perspectives in my life and I decided to take this final step…I will continue my hunger strike until I am paid or die. I will not step back – if I give up I will have to agree to live a miserable life.

Alexander Kashin is now starving himself to death because the US won’t pay for his medical bills

Kashin and his lawyers requested $10 million to cover medical expenses and a rehabilitation program. This isn’t an outrageous figure dreamed up by his lawyers, but is based on a medical evaluation by an American doctor named Robert Voogt. "Based on Mr. Kashin’s current age and a life expectancy of 50 years," Voogt wrote in 2001, "the total cost without loss of wages or loss of enjoyment of life or pain and suffering would be $10,236,200 over his life time."

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