A high-ranking Soviet military attache, described in an accident report as "apparently severely intoxicated," was driving a car that plowed head on into another car Saturday afternoon and hospitalized an 85-year-old woman.
The driver has diplomatic immunity, however, and therefore cannot be prosecuted. He was released to the custody of the Soviet Embassy. An embassy spokesman denied yesterday that the official had been intoxicated at the time of the accident.
The accident report by the U.S. Park Police states that the Russian driver, identified as Sergei N. Smirnov, an embassy air attache, was "incoherent" and "had the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage about his breath."
The accident occurred on Rock Creek Parkway, just north of P Street NW.
Smirnov's 1982 Ford LTD crossed over from the southbound lanes of the parkway and struck a 1977 Dodge Aspen station wagon, driven by Robert Malakoff, a Senate subcommittee staffer, the report said.
Malakoff was driving, his wife Grace was in the front seat and his mother Cecile was in the back seat.
"There are a lot of uncertainties," said Malakoff, whose mother is in stable condition and in traction because of a hip injury she received in the accident.
"The first thing is the man should be subject to the same penalties we are subject to," he said. "Secondly, I'm not sure what diplomatic immunity means financially. It's unclear how far they will come to compensate us" for medical expenses.
Malakoff said he expects his mother to be hospitalized for at least two months.
The accident report states that the "accident was caused by Smirnov. Contributing factors would be the consumption of alcohol since he was apparently severely intoxicated."
It also says that Smirnov "could not speak, he babbled, appeared incoherent, and had glassy eyes . . . difficulty walking." Smirnov was handcuffed after he became "violent" and struggled with an officer, according to the report.
The official was taken into custody and released to the Soviet Embassy.
But Boris Malakhov, second secretary of the press office at the Soviet Embassy, said Smirnov "was not intoxicated."
"There were no charges pressed," Malakhov noted, adding, "He was under shock. The car was badly damaged. Why wouldn't the person inside be, too?"
"It is a sheer accident," Malakhov said. "It could happen to anybody. No one is charging him yet."
While Smirnov can't be prosecuted, the State Department can ask host countries to remove diplomats who have violated U.S. laws, a State Department spokesman said.
"All diplomats who drive must also have insurance to get license plates," the spokesman said, surmising that Smirnov's insurance company would cover some of the medical expenses incurred by the Malakoffs.
Smirnov was not in his office at the embassy yesterday afternoon.
When asked about her views on diplomatic immunity in such cases, Cecile Malakoff said, "They are guests here. Don't you think they ought to honor the laws of the country that provides the hospitality for them?"