Unlicensed driver flips legislative van; agencies investigate

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) _ Several state agencies are investigating why a Russian translator without a valid U.S. license was driving a state legislative van a week ago when the van spun out of control and flipped on busy Anchorage road.

Neither the Russian translator nor any of his three passengers _ a visiting parliamentary delegation from the Khabarovsk region in the Russian Far East _ was seriously injured in the June 23

crash in south Anchorage. But the year-old, 15-passenger van is a loss, and there's no insurance to cover it.

``Things occur,'' said House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage. ``In any event, we are extremely fortunate that no one was injured, except our budget.''

The blue Ford van cost nearly $40,000 when purchased last year, Porter said, and now it's only good for parts.

``We had just traded in our old van because it was falling apart,'' Porter said.

The three Russians arrived in Alaska on June 17 for a weeklong visit at the invitation of Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, chairwoman of the House Economic Development, International

Trade and Tourism Committee. The highest ranking member of the delegation was Leonid Golub, vice chair of the regional parliament in Khabarovsk.

The itinerary published by McGuire's committee said that Louis Caputo, an aide to McGuire, was responsible for guiding the group on June 23, a Saturday, for at least a portion of the day.

They were scheduled to go south to Portage Glacier or north to Talkeetna, and also to make an official tour of ``local distribution centers with Louis Caputo.''

Caputo was supposed to drive them to the airport for the return flight to Russia at 4:45 a.m. the next morning.

Neither Caputo nor any other legislative staffer was in the van when it went out of control and rolled at 2:55 p.m. that Saturday, and Porter, a former Anchorage Police chief, said he is

investigating why.

``I'm thinking there are some responsible folks and disciplinary action is available,'' Porter said.

Brad Thompson, director of risk management for the state, said he also planned to investigate why a state employee was not driving the van. He said the translator could be considered a state

employee under some circumstances.

McGuire is on an official visit to Asia and could not be reached by the Anchorage Daily News. Answering his office phone Monday, Caputo said, ``I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to

comment on that, actually,'' and referred calls to another McGuire aide, Jim Pound.

Pound said the Russians had made a shopping visit to Wal-Mart and were headed back to their hotel ``when something went haywire and they crashed.''

According to the Anchorage Police Department accident report, the driver, Andrey Khalkachan, 26, said he was talking to the visitors when he suddenly realized he had drifted onto the left

shoulder. He overcorrected, swerving hard to the right, and the van rolled over.

Porter said Khalkachan reacted when he hit rumble strips cut into the shoulders by state highway crews.

``Not only is no one used to those things, this guy from Magadan definitely isn't,'' Porter said.

Golub, the parliamentary vice chair, was treated by medics at the scene for abrasions of the buttocks. Khalkachan, an exchange student who does free-lance translation work, was treated for

cuts on his arm.

When asked by police for his license, Khalkachan had only a Russian document that state computers ``could not verify,'' according to the investigating officer.

In an interview Monday, Khalkachan said he has lived in Alaska for four years but only obtained his Alaska license after the accident. He would not discuss what happened, except to say

that Caputo should have been driving.

``He wanted me to drive,'' Khalkachan said.

Chuck Hosack, deputy director of the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles, said Alaska recognizes Outside licenses when a driver has lived in Alaska for 90 days or less.

Porter said he's less concerned about Khalkachan's certification to drive than ``why was he driving in the first place.''

The matter is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Legislative Council on July 11.

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