Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My accident or how I lost the last shreds of faith I had in the Lithuanian police and judicial system

I was hoping that I would be able to entitle this "My accident or the cost of justice in Lithuania", but that hope was crushed by the verdict issued by the judge some time ago. But let me start at the beginning. On 19 February, I was involved in a traffic accident. As I was making a left turn at an intersection, the driver behind me (also making a left turn) accelerated and began passing me (as we were turning). I honked to warn him to watch out and then after he cut in front of me I honked again and flashed my high beams as a warning to drive more carefully. He was apparently angered by my actions because he braked suddenly and came to a stop right in front of me. I saw his brake lights but assumed he was preparing to turn into a nearby filling station. When I understood he had come to a complete stop, I slammed on my brakes, but the road was covered with snow and I could not stop in time.

When the police arrived on the scene, they questioned me and then talked to the other driver. Before even looking at the accident, they said that everything was clear--that I was following to closely. That the other driver was driving recklessly (passing as he did and then slamming on his brakes in the middle of the road for no reason) did not seem important. The patrolmen pushed me very hard to fill out paperwork stating that the accident was solely my fault, but despite their threats (big fines or confiscation of my driving licence) (and even though they said several times that I was wasting their time--their shift had ended and they said they should have been home already), I refused to take full blame for the accident, which meant that we had to go to the police station to fill out paperwork (and where I was admonished by a senior officer for "mocking" the patrolmen--after all their shift had already ended and they should be at home).

Refusing to take full blame for the accident also meant that I had to go to the police station on 22 Feb. to attend a hearing, which was ostensibly to determine whether I was actually at fault. The officer I met at that hearing was Sigitas Kūjalis. I explained how the accident happened, and I told him that I had found a video recording of the accident (made by a security camera on the Polish Cultural Center) but had not had time to get a copy. We scheduled a meeting for another day. At that time, I showed him the video and explained to him that there was a discrepancy between the written evidence that the other driver had given (that he hadn't stopped) and what was on the recording. He nonchalantly flipped through the pages of the accident file and said, "I don't see that he was lying". He then told me that I would have to pay a fine of about US$40.

I decided to take the matter to court. Surely everything could be cleared up there. It was not the fine that bothered me (I knew that hiring a lawyer would cost at least $300); it was mostly the principle of the matter. Of course, that I would be paying higher insurance rates (and would most likely be paying thousands more for this accident because of the higher rates) was also a consideration. My wife was 100 per cent against the move. But then again she had earlier said that I should take the easy way out and take full responsibility for the accident, so I decided to ignore her advice. The judge was Algimantas Valantinas, a former prosecutor general who had lost his post because of some malfeasance. According to my lawyer, the hearing was conducted in a reasonably and seemingly fair manner. I explained my side of the story, putting particular emphasis on the fact that the written testimony of the other driver obviously differed from the filmed evidence. The other driver lied once again, though he changed his story slightly for the judge. Instead of saying that he hadn't slowed down at all (much less stopped), he stated that he'd slowed down because he thought that I was signaling that something was wrong. Nevertheless, the difference between the other driver's original written testimony and his oral testimony in court remained. And I pointed that out.

The decision of the judge was therefore shocking. The basic decision, that the fine was assessed fairly, was made because the judge decided to take the word of the other driver and disregard the filmed record. I have no doubt that this decision was made on the basis of the identity of the other driver, Filionis August. His identity is connected with the licence plate of his vehicle, DOU 222 (Toyota Land Cruiser), another one for the bad drivers' hall of shame. My lawyer found out before our hearing that licence plates having three numbers that are the same were in the past given to anyone who was formerly in the police force or to people with ties to the police force. So, it can't be proven, but it seems that I hit a former police officer, and in Lithuania that means that I'll always be at fault. I'm sure that the thought of "what can he do for me in the future?" was also not in my favour.

What does that say about the Lithuanian police? Justice system? Filionis August? Well, as for this Filionis August fellow, who I found to be a particularly slimy 'person', I can say this: Fil, you taught me a lesson. Justice in Lithuania doesn't come from the systems the government has set up to "serve" the people. It comes from oneself. If you're lucky, we won't cross paths again. And you can better believe that I'll boycott your company, August & Ko, and encourage others to do the same.

Now, this incident itself is nasty business: being blamed for an accident that at least wasn't entirely my fault and having to pay dearly for this in the form of increased auto insurance premiums. But this incident was actually the straw that broke the camel's back. We've had problems with the police before, the most prominent incident being when our car was hit while parked on the street. (The culprit was caught but then "lost". Some very angry calls from me to succeedingly higher layers of police administration finally solved everything.) There have been other minor incidents as well. And our experiences with the justice system here have been rather ugly as well. The most prominent of those experiences was about a year ago when my wife made a mistake on some pro-forma document that needed a judge's approval and the judge, Petras Kazys Smaliukas, asked for a bribe to help straighten things out. Nevertheless, I--being the naive, trusting fellow I am--preserved some modicum of respect for those two arms of the Lithuanian government. Past tense.

So, I'd like to say something to the people involved in this situation: patrolman Jurij Pliargo, senior specialist Sigitas Kūjalis, and Judge Algimantas Valantinas. You shame yourselves and your country, and you are part of the reason why living in this country, to put it bluntly, sucks. And you know that's not just my opinion.

5 comments:

The Puumaja Crew said...

Sorry to hear that was the eventual outcome. In Estonia, I had someone claim that I'd scraped their car in a carpark (they'd rather lamely painted on a couple of streaks of white that looked more like tipp-ex, and the fact that my car was scraped to buggery hardly helped) - so increased premiums. Then another time a truck slowed down as if to let me change lanes, then hit the gas, scraping the (newly remonted) paintwork! The police said 'well, you and I both know that's what he did but the fact is you were crossing the lane and so it's you "fault"'. 45 years of Soviet occpuation don't go away overnight sadly..

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XtraSmall said...

Holy cow! I'm sorry for you man. I passed the driving theory exam 3 months ago and then I decided not to have a driving licence at all. I've heard many stories like this, and I've seen how the guys here drive. In my opinion Lithuanians in general are very patriotic. They always stick to their folks and their stuffs, even if it goes against the law, or beyond sanity. I've been living here for four years exactly and every damn year I have problem with the immigration police though I'm legally married to a lithuanian guy and I'm the mother of a lithuanian girl.

EEEC said...

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Jurate said...

Dear Alan,
thank you for sharing this story.
I have seen people drive this way. What happened later as you were going through courts is not much of a surprise but it was still a shocker to be reading this, black on white.
Your story should go nationwide.
Please continue writing.
And please sign up for a Facebook page of your blog :)